I've been playing with Windows 7 Beta for a few months and have been fairly pleased with it. Over the weekend, I installed the latest version, Release Candidate 1. It's working even more smoothly.
I'm using it on a 6 year old laptop, running on a Pentium M processor (pre-Centrino days) and I'm getting fine performance from it. It's quicker than the XP image I had on this notebook and handles multiple applications well.
I'm not sure I'd trust this hardware to Vista.
Now don't get me wrong. I liked Vista. On the right hardware it was great. But older hardware is always more of a challenge -- and it's a challenge Windows 7 appears to meet.
There were a few issues. The OS didn't automatically install my SD card reader or my USB webcam. I had to seek out drivers for those. It took a Windows Update visit to get my WiFi to work. And, while my touchpad works as a mouse, it doesn't have any of the advanced features that were available under XP.
It handles 50 Firefox tabs at once, and gives decent performance under IE 8.
My favorite Vista feature (like the searh bar in the Start menu and check boxes for selecting files) are still here. The desktop and task bar are cleaner.
The only weird interface thing I haven't figured out yet is getting new items to appear in my Start menu. They're on the system. I can launch them from the search box on the star menu. But I can't figure out how to scroll to them. I probably just screwed something up.
If you'd like to try it, MSFT is offering it as a free download. It will run as normal until March of next year, at which time you will need to purchase and install the final version of Window 7.
This is still a Beta product, which means it is still considered to be in testing, so there is some risk there. Make sure you backup your data.
When you install it, it's best to do it on a blank hard drive. Back up all the data you want to keep before you install it.
But if you have any older machine laying around and want to play with the next version of Windows, give it shot.