I realize that, when you published your overview of the GUI options for Windows Vista in December 2006, you progbably lost most of your potential readers, because they were using Vista (or were "bashing" it without trying it -- a widespread phenomenon that disturbs me, because Mac OS X, Windows Vista, and the overwhelming number of Linux distributions -- because most vitriolic criticisms come from people who have never used the OS and/or GUI upon which they unleash their wrath!
Even before Microsoft released SP1 for Windows Vista -- delaying the release of SP3 for Windows XP for three months, although no QA or R&D resources were assigned to additional testing of XP's SP3.
IMHO, the least that Microsoft could have done was to fix bugs, such as the one in an XP security patch, which was part of SP2 also, that removed all but three desktop icons that users could enable or disable in XP via the advanced button, below the listing of desktop/wallpaper images.
As you know, the listed options are/were limited to XP's default options and images in a user's "My Pictures" folder, but I've created a "Wallpapers" directory at the system root level ever since Windows NT 4 (which I chose over Windows 98 when I bought my first "Wintel" PC -- after which I built my Windows and Linux computers, freeing me from OEMs and their cheap hardware), so I could "Browse..." to "Wallpapers," which provided a centralized location for wallpaper/desktop images.
Microsoft never fixed this bug in XP, and I was irritated that XP's SP3, the final service pack for XP did not address this irritating bug, or more serious ones. Microsoft's perspective was different, of course, because XP was the "past" (although SP3 should have allowed XP to "go out with dignity" instead of being a kludge that simply incorporated all patches and fixes released after SP2) and Vista -- which I jokingly call "Microsoft's for-pay anexpensive beta version of Windows 7" -- needed the major fixes in SP1 that increased Vista's speed. NOTE: After doing a "slip-stream" installation of XP's SP3 and installing it for family, friends, and clients -- but not for myself, because I ran FDISK in January 2006 on my XP Pro hard drive and switched to Debian GNU/Linux -- I checked XP's "Display" control panel's "Desktop" tab (the function of which is "hidden" in the "Desktop Icon Settings" in Vista as the "Change Desktop Icons" task) and was not suprised that the bug remained -- and that SP3 adversely affected major, non-Microsoft programs on several systems...a compatibility glitch that I had not expected.
I was interested in a notebook for running Linux and, knowing "DIY" notebook computers are not yet a reality, I tried out different notebook and laptop computers in retail stores (before the demise of CompUSA and Circuit City, which basically made Best Buy a monopoly for people who want to test a variety of laptop/notebook PCs, which I understand) and, of course, Vista was preloaded on all of these computers.
I found that Vista, even before SP1, was responsive and quick with adequate resources, althogh I personally find Aero more aesthetically offensive than Luna...which lasted less than a day after I installed XP, and I used to joke that Microsoft had a contest for the most gauche and ugly GUI for XP and the Luna won.
My point, of course, Marius, has nothing to do with the aesthetics of Vista's Aero -- although I have always wondered why the taskbar and most of the default Start menu for Aero have/had to be black, rather than matching a user's choice of colors -- but that I found no factual basis for the rants I kept reading on the 'Net that Vista was so slow that it was useless. (I do feel that, even on a fast computer -- and I know people who want to run Vista but cannot afford to upgrade or replace their computers -- there are better uses for resources than Aero's "eye candy,", the Sidebar, DirectX 10, and the general "abuse" of "shiny" and transparency in Vista.
I do wish that Microsoft had not repeated the deceptive illusion of color customization in XP's Luna, via the "Appearance" option, with the Windows Vista Basic visual style -- and Luna at least had three color schemes.
Although customizing Windows XP required "cracking" 'uxtheme.dll' to force XP to accept visual styles/themes not signed by Microsoft -- and I'm not a fan of modifying system files -- several very talented creators of custom visual styles/themes for XP achieved almost cult status, because they had the technical ability to create stable and visually appealing themes for XP -- and TGTSoft and StarDock bought the rights to some of the ugliest themes/styles I saw for XP, which were antithetical to usability...but perhaps TGTSoft and StarDock realized -- after "unlocking" 'uxtheme.dll' was trivial for users and many stable, attractive, and high-quality themes were available for free -- that there was little money to be made in selling StyleXP and WindowBlinds.
Customizing Vista is more complex and the sheer number of items that need customization in order for a theme to be consistent is overwhelming. "Tune up" utilities for Vista that offer simpe themes for Vista often use dangerous kernel-module hooks, and creating a stable theme is a complex and daunting project -- and creators want others to like and to use their themes, and I have read comments on themes that focus on one or two "flaws" (as defined by each responder).
I liked Microsoft's original "Longhorn" designs for the minimize, maximize, and close buttons, but these clean and monochromatic elements were replaced by buttons that I wish I could replace with the minimalist title bar buttons in the "Metabox" and most "Metacity" themes for Gtk+-based window managers and desktop environments for Linux, BSD, and UNIX. Fortunately, "MetaBox" (or an approximation) is a default option for Gnome and Xfce, and even KDE -- not to mention the many window managers, from elaborate ones to Fluxbox and Blackbox (and its a shame that the Blackbox ports for Windows were always in progress and minimal effort was made for cooperation among Blackbox coders for Windows). No one wants to use a utility that is obviously "orphaned" to customize their OS/GUI, and possibly end up reinstalling their OS, and knowing there is no active community of developers and users.
The only customization for the Windows GUI that lasted more than a few years was LiteStep, which I tried and found to be restrictive and ugly.
Each Linux distribution can be customized almost infinitely, making GUI criticisms of Linux basically irrelevant. (There are, however, legitimate discussions about stability, resource use, limitations, or bugs in the three major desktop environment -- KDE, Gnome, and Xfce -- such as the annoyance that users cannot single-click on desktop icons in Gnome or Xfce ("Gnome Light") because each is based upon Gtk+, which lacks a function or library to provide this option.) I use window managers and file managers, because I have never liked Gnome or Xfce (which are too simple) and, although I stared off with KDE when I first starting using Linux nine years ago, because it was the default GUI for the first "distro" I used, KDE just keeps getting more bloated and I tried KDE 4 with its default, almost monochromatic windows, but Dolphin was a much better file manager than using Konqueror (as a file manager AND Web browser), but I'm back to using a customized window manager.
I use Windows Classic -- which is crude and primitive, but which I can modify -- on an HP notebook I was given in August 2008 with Vista preloaded. (I'll install Debian Linux after the worthless HP warranty expires -- and HP is finally offering to replace the defective CPU installled when this notebook was built...after over 11 months of neglect, lies, and verbal abuse -- although I have no faith that HP will resolve this serious hardware issue, among others, because HP has given me no reason to trust them.
At least Windows 7 does not have a black taskbar! Perhaps you will write a Softpedia article about the Windows 7 GUI, although Microsoft states that work on the OS will continue...and the GUI in Windows 7 RC may differ from the GUI released in October, although the GUI for Windows 7 will retain its Vista roots.