Still upset about Windows Vista? Don't worry. According to Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, it should all be over soon.

News wires were abuzz late last week with gossip that Microsoft may be planning to release its follow-up to Vista, currently known as Windows 7, as early as next year. Previous reports had the next-generation OS shipping no sooner than 2010, but now – for some strange reason – it seems Microsoft may be upping its timetable.

For now, the rumors are based on little more than offhand comments by Microsoft executives. At a meeting in Miami, Gates remarked that a new version of Windows should arrive "sometime in the next year or so." Meanwhile, the Windows XP support timetable suggests that 2010 might coincide with the one-year anniversary of Windows 7.

Pretty thin stuff. Still, for those of us who have been soundly disappointed with Vista, it's hard not to get caught up in the hype.

But the truth is that speculation that Windows 7 might arrive in 2009 has been floating around for at least a year. No matter how tight-lipped Microsoft tries to be, no matter how much it seems like a long shot, it seems as though we simply want to believe that a major new Windows milestone is imminent.

It's funny, because nobody really knows what Windows 7 might look like when it finally arrives. There has been plenty of speculation, and a few more portentous-sounding statements from Gates and company, but that's about it.

My feeling? It's best to take all talk of Windows 7 with a great, big grain of salt. Remember what happened with Vista itself. Despite repeated delays that pushed Vista's ship date back by months, the version we finally got lacked much-touted features and – well, you know the rest.

If you ask me, we shouldn't be focusing on what features the next version of Windows may or may not bring, but on whether Microsoft's development divisions are still able to deliver quality products at all. There's talk that Windows 7 will ship with a leaner, more efficient kernel. I suspect, however, that a leaner, more efficient Microsoft would ultimately benefit customers even more.