In the three years since Vista hit the market (and left more than a few people with bad tastes in their mouths), Microsoft developers have been pulling all-nighters and all-weekenders to make sure Windows 7 outperforms on all fronts when it is released late this year.
At the same time, the various Linux distributions have been rigorously pulling their own acts together, and have released major flagship versions of their respective operating systems.
With each successive release on both sides, people have asked: Which is better? It's tempting to say "Linux" (but, which one?) or "Windows" (same problem!) and be done with it. It's better to ask: What are they both capable of now, and how do those things compare against each other? Here, then, is a 30,000-foot view of the territories that Windows 7 and the top Linux distributions have staked out, and what they mean to each other.
One thing I should nail down before going any further is what's meant by "versus" in this context. This won't be one of those boxing-metaphor articles where one OS has to land the killer punch to "win" -- it's a way of looking at how they each stack up in their respective categories, and with some cross-comparison where it's relevant.
Even if Linux or Windows excels in a given category, don't take that as a sign to drop everything and switch. Your real-world usage should determine what OS to use, not abstractions.
Where The Operating Systems Stand Today
As of this writing, Windows 7 is far closer to completion than most people were expecting to give Microsoft credit for. The original public beta was strikingly polished; at least one reviewer was of the opinion that 7 could be released as-is and it would still outdo Vista across the board. Obviously that wasn't going to happen, but both the public beta and public release candidate edition of 7 have been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times -- a good indicator of future success.
Linux, on the other hand, could be evaluated by multiple milestones. There's the kernel itself, the heart of each Linux distribution; there's the state of each distribution -- Debian, Ubuntu, Red Hat / Fedora, SUSE, etc.; and there's the incremental evolution of all the associated projects used by each distribution -- KDE, GNOME, GTK, Wine, and so on. Since the distribution itself is the most basic "unit of consumption" for Linux, it makes sense to talk about the state of the distributions first.