That the PR hordes at Microsoft would begin the jungle drumbeat for the next version of Windows within an ace of the launch of Vista was, of course, to be expected. The company's default position whenever challenged about its latest products has always been to pique the appetite for the next version through calculated leaks, the drawing up of roadmaps, the tossing around of code names and the issuing of possible feature details. This predictable tactic is rearing its head again with a steady stream of stories appearing in the media: Google News today lists 862. The question is: why do we play along?

There are a couple of answers that spring to mind. One is that it's the fault of people like me. Desperate to pad out the news agenda, we journalists are easy prey for Redmond's publicity machine so we write up any titbit that appears. A second, less self-lacerating conclusion is that because we spend so much time with Windows then it is legitimate to be interested in any changes to the all-conquering desktop OS. It is a depressing thought that we spend more time lost in the four coloured panes of the Windows world than we do with our loved ones. Actually, let's not even go there.

Experience should at least tell us how to prepare for the long march to the next Microsoft vision of software Nirvana. So here are some guides as an aide memoire:

1. It will be late. Of course, it will be late. It's always late. If it's running really late, it will be released in dribs and drabs. There will almost certainly be some confusion about the release date and what "release date" really means. There will be references to alpha testing, beta testing, private betas, TechNet subscriber betas, limited public betas, generally available betas, gold code, release candidates, releases to manufacturing, internationalisation and availability of downloadable versions as opposed to versions on physical media with shrink-wrapped packaging.

2. There will be excuses. Tardiness will be explained by many means. There will be references to the calendar such as "It wouldn't have made sense to release Windows 7 so close to Christmas/at the end of the tax year/on the anniversary of the moon landings/at a time when the weather has been so unseasonably warm."

3. The product will change. Somewhere along the line, a major organ will be removed. This might well be a user interface or file system that has been causing headaches for engineers. Either way, in order to hit the twice-revised "ship date" it's going to have to go. Even if it was the most important reason for the "upgrade".

4. There will be concerns over compatibility and bugs. Of course it won't work with your
scanner/printer/mouse/life-support system. But then you have to understand all the great features you're getting and sacrifice a little. Don't be such a Luddite.

5. Very soon after the release, there will come news of a subsequent version, codenamed...