Today Microsoft opened up Windows 7 to the masses — 2.5 Million downloads of the new OS are available (though they have had some trouble keeping up with the demand). We already had a chance to try out the pre-beta release on a notebook and a netbook. The beta release offers some new gems to explore, including the new taskbar. We loaded Windows 7 on the Samsung NC10 and so far it’s running extremely well. There’s no discernible lag when running three or four programs at once, we haven’t suffered any crashes, and there’s a distinct lack of annoying pop-ups. With the pre-beta version starting up varied a lot — sometimes it would take only a couple of minutes, sometimes it would take close to four. That’s been smoothed out for the beta and start-up times are very quick — 48 seconds for initial boot, less than 30 reviving from hibernation, and around 10 coming back from sleep mode. (We’ll have video evidence and more precise times soon.) A Microsoft rep told us today that devices bearing the Certified Windows 7 logo must wake from sleep in two seconds or less. As others have mentioned, Windows 7 doesn’t look much different from Vista. One new thing we like is the taskbar, which is oddly familiar in its functionality… Forgoing a Quick Launch area, users can pin an icon to the taskbar to keep it in easy reach. When you launch the program, you won’t get a separate icon/bar. The icon remains the same (with a subtle visual cue that there’s n active program) and stays in place on the taskbar. You can pin all of your frequently used icons there and not worry about them crowding each other out or moving around. Icons stay where you put them whether the program is open or closed. One thing that Vista users are used to but might annoy XP users is the window preview function. Hover over an icon and the window or windows associated with it will appear as thumbnails. You’ll have to hover and click to switch, and if you’re dealing with a program with multiple windows this can get old fast. But there are bound to be multiple ways of switching windows that we haven’t found and explored yet. We’re looking forward to testing Windows 7 beta on other notebooks and netbooks so we can try some of the other great features like multi-touch. Check out our screen capture video below to see all of this in action. Then check back with Microsoft — the beta should be ready to download now.