We’ve all had a good laugh at Microsoft’s attempts to ship the next-generation of Windows over the past few years. Even its initial codename, Longhorn, was worth a childish chuckle in 2001. Now named Vista the new Windows was first expected in 2004, then 2005, in time for this Christmas, and now maybe as late as April 2007.

By that time, Apple should have released Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard – expect the first public demonstration at the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference in August.

We’ve already been treated to a free beta of one of Leopard’s features, in the form of Boot Camp’s Windows-on-Mac experience. But we won’t get the chance to play with a trial version of Leopard months before the initial release. Vista, on the other hand, is available to download for a free trial now, and droves of PC users are already getting to grips with the new OS.

Response hasn’t been overly favourable. My PC Advisor colleagues describe Vista’s user interface as inconsistent. And Vista’s networking options, which were merely disorganized in Windows XP, have apparently become “downright baffling”.

Maybe that’s why Apple doesn’t release a public beta of Leopard, but it’s a shame that after offering a 30-day trial of its iWork ‘06 applications Apple hasn’t extended the idea to its beta operating systems. According to the latest Macworld readership survey 65 per cent are using Tiger, but 26 per cent are sticking with Panther, and the rest with earlier versions of Mac OS X. Give them a taste of the future, and most will likely upgrade when the full version ships.

While Vista isn’t getting good press, the same cannot be said of the forthcoming upgrade to Microsoft’s Office applications. The Public Beta of Office 2007 looks fantastic.

With its thousands of toolbars, menu items and features, the Office interface can be stupidly busy. Office 2007’s solution: Replace most standard menus and toolbars with a tabbed, visual Ribbon. Rather than just tweaking the UI, Microsoft has been brave enough to reinvent it, and it works. Sadly it’s just for Windows XP right now, but I’m betting that a Universal Microsoft Office 2007 for Intel Macs will win a rosette as well as a ribbon.