The good news about Windows 7 is that it's faster than its predecessor, Vista. The bad news about Microsoft's new operating system, which went on sale yesterday, is that it is slower than Vista.

The contradictory statements only serve to show the confusion of numbers coming from technical analysts and publications about Windows 7 performance.

The US edition of PC World magazine ran Windows 7 speed tests on a range of computers doing a variety of tasks and was unable to declare it significantly faster than the much-maligned Vista.

Windows 7 "makes some performance strides over Vista, though in some cases we saw no clear-cut winner, and in one area Windows 7 lagged considerably behind its predecessor", the magazine said last month. Overall, Windows 7 was only slightly quicker than Vista - an improvement, nonetheless.

Meanwhile, over at PC World's IDG stable mate, Computerworld US, Los Angeles software developer iolo technologies is reported as having timed Windows 7 starting up 42 per cent slower than Vista on a brand new machine.

The new operating system might appear to boot up more quickly than Vista, iolo says, but the time taken until the computer is fully usable - with a low load on the processor - was 1 minute 34 seconds for Windows 7 versus 1 minute 6 seconds for Vista.

What's worse, it got slower at starting up as time went on, according to iolo, which bills itself as a PC tune-up specialist.

If that's embarrassing for Microsoft after the panning Vista received for its perceived sluggishness, the company's not letting on. In its performance claims for Windows 7, Microsoft avoids saying boot-up is quicker, while claiming it is speedier at going into and out of hibernation mode.

Ben Green, head of Microsoft's New Zealand Windows group, says the Windows 7 design emphasis has been on overall performance, which means "different things to different people".

"We've put a lot of time and effort into the performance as it relates to common use scenarios," he says, such as switching between applications and search.

And contrary to the iolo and PC World test results, Green reports users of pre-release versions of the OS are "very pleased" at the start-up speed.

It's true that there are all kinds of qualifications to any speed test. For a start, there are 32-bit and 64-bit versions of both operating systems, and PC World's testing showed 64-bit Windows 7 started faster than 64-bit Vista.

That wasn't the case with all test machines, however, prompting the magazine to say: "Whether Windows 7 will start faster than Vista for you will likely depend on your particular computer's setup."

Quite. There is some unequivocally good news on the hardware front, though. Unlike past new Microsoft operating systems, Windows 7 doesn't significantly up the ante in terms of minimum PC specification.

Broadly speaking, a machine with a 1GHz processor, 1GB of RAM and 16GB of spare hard disk space - just about any 2-year-old or younger machine - should be able to cope. Encouragingly, PC World found even a bare-bones netbook with a "puny" processor survived the Windows 7 experience.

Even so, Michael Dell, founder of the computer company that bears his name, was licking his lips at the prospect of Windows 7's arrival. Britain's PC Advisor magazine reported Dell anticipating the new operating system would spark "a very powerful refresh cycle" - code for a run on Dell PCs.

According to Green, Hewlett-Packard New Zealand was already seeing a surge in hardware orders attributable to Windows 7.

Services businesses smell gold too. Because Vista was written off as a dog, many PC buyers of the past couple of years chose to stick with XP, the earlier Windows version. That means pent-up demand for Vista's successor.

Jaimie Robson, of DeployTech, an Auckland company that helps organisations do IT system upgrades, sees migrating to Windows 7 as a major advance.

"On any hardware bought in the last two years, it will go significantly better than Windows XP and Vista," says Robson, who has been running the final pre-release version on a 2-year-old laptop.

"From a standing start I am up and running, logged in and have Outlook open in 36 seconds." That compares with 1 minute 30 seconds on XP - with Vista's poor reputation, he hadn't even tried it.

At a likely retail price of about $500 to upgrade from XP or Vista to Windows 7 Professional, few will bother, though, despite its undoubtedly useful new features. The further good news is there's no need to upgrade because older versions of Windows will cheerfully co-exist with Windows 7 as new machines are added to the company network.

EARLY DELIVERY

While yesterday was the official launch date for Windows 7, the operating system has been available - illicitly - for at least a week in China. Pirated copies were reportedly selling in Shanghai markets for as little as 20 yuan, or less than $4.