The fact Microsoft is offering Windows 7 free for an entire year to anybody who wants it is definitely a change for the better. It used to be that whenever any software maker released a product, they would do so, wait for the mountain of complaints to come in, then provide fixes. Concerning operating systems, that’s typically how commercial releases worked for many years.
It is impossible to release an OS that is bug-free. But with Windows 7 I can honestly say that when official, this will probably be the least bug-laden version of the OS ever put to market. And a huge reason for that is because people like myself and many others who are running Windows 7 RC are providing valuable information to Microsoft by using the OS, talking about it, describing what works, what doesn’t and so on.
Linux users have been doing this for years, so the idea of letting the users give feedback before official release is nothing new. It is the strength of the Linux community that contributes largely to a Linux distribution’s rock-solid reliability. When there’s a problem even to the slightest degree, it’s reported, discussed openly (keyword there) and addressed.
Finally, after all this time, Microsoft is now following suit and taking advantage of the power of the internet community. This is a very large step in the right direction because it gives the home user a much louder voice than before.
The voice of the consumer was largely overshadowed by corporations up until this point. Why? Because corporations spend the most money on Microsoft products. Am I saying that the consumer is now on an even playing field with corporate? No. But we are being listened to more, and that’s better than nothing.
Microsoft will never be at the level of user empowerment that Linux is. Of that I have no doubt. Linux, being largely non-commercial, has the advantage of having the user as its loudest voice first and always. When you’re commercial, the user is shunted to dead last as far as "this is who we listen to concerning issues", and I don’t deny that.
However, in all my years of using Windows this is the first time I’ve really seen Microsoft actually pay very close attention to its consumer base and make it well known that it is.
As said above, this is a huge step in the right direction because it makes for a much better end product.