Microsoft did this to themselves. Vista was a flop. Even now, according to Net Applications' Market Share, Vista has only a lousy 23% of the desktop market. For a while, Microsoft ignored the fact that even their own executives were horrified by just how bad Vista was. But then the Linux-powered netbook came along, and Microsoft was frightened enough by its early successes that it un-retired Windows XP Home.
Now, Microsoft wants to kill off XP again. Step one will be bringing free support for XP to a close on April 14th. Step two is letting anyone and their uncle get a free copy of the Windows 7 release candidate sometime in May. The timing is by design.
Microsoft is now hanging onto their desktop market-share and gained netbook market-share because they re-released XP Home, but it's a Pyrrhic victory. The reason XP Home is so popular on netbooks isn't that it's better than Linux; it's because Microsoft is essentially giving XP Home away to netbook vendors. Microsoft can't afford to keep giving away its products, so XP needs to die as fast as possible so they can start selling users on Windows 7.
Vista? Please. It barely runs on PCs, much less netbooks. It's Windows 7 or bust as far as Microsoft is concerned.
Will Windows users go along with this and switch to 7? I suspect they will. The XP users aren't going to be completely happy with the trip though. Windows 7 is a radically cleaned up and skinnier version of Vista. I've been using 7 for several months, and it's a decent operating system. Yes, that's me, the Linux desktop guy, saying that Windows 7 is OK.
However, Windows 7 looks and feels a lot like Vista, and if you think you can just switch right over from XP to 7 without going through a learning curve, you're wrong. I think XP users will find it just as easy, or not, to switch to the Novell's new Windows-friendly SLED (SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop) 11 as to 7.
Windows 7 also has a lot of Vista badness in it still. My compadre Preston Gralla made a good point earlier this year about how if your older hardware didn't work with Vista, it still won't work with Windows 7.
So, if you're an XP user, brace yourself. This time you're not going to get a XP reprise. One way or another, you're going to be moving to a new operating system sometime soon. Microsoft wants it to be 7; I'd like to suggest that you consider a Linux such as Fedora, openSUSE, or Ubuntu as well.