Microsoft has recently announced that the next generation of their Windows operating system, called Vista, will not now be available to the home user market until January 2007. Despite the hype that will surround the launch of Vista, it will be an evolutionary rather than revolutionary product. The home user will notice the slick new Aero interface as the biggest change, followed by a new Windows Explorer and the provision of virtual folders. Much of the rest of the improvements relate to networking and security and may not be apparent to a casual home user, but are improvements that will hopefully make Vista a more secure operating system than its predecessors.
Microsoft has recently launched a GetReady site for Vista where you can find details on the minimum specification needed to run the new OS (for now, I suggest that you should take these minimum specs with a grain of salt as Microsoft has tended to understate these in the past - 128MB of RAM for XP Home? Yes it runs, but like a lame dog). What we can say from what they have published is that a lot of PCs out there will require a lot more RAM and more powerful graphics cards if Vista is to display the features of the new Aero interface. We'll save the debate about whether you should upgrade to Vista until after we have had the opportunity to try Vista for ourselves.
You may be interested to note that Windows XP, at the time of the launch of Vista, will be Microsoft's longest running Windows operating system, while Windows Me was the shortest surviving (no surprises there then).