Updated from 01/10/09

LAS VEGAS -- I'm hoping this isn't

déjà vu

. It's time to test the first public beta of a new version of

Microsoft's

(MSFT) - Get Report

personal computer operating system, and once again there have been problems. This time, Microsoft's servers were overloaded, leaving many users unable to download the software, including me.

But the company appears to have fixed that problem, and I have downloaded the new OS.

The last time around, the OS had a fancy name: Windows Vista. I was working for another online news service at the time and couldn't wait to try the first Vista beta on a brand new laptop. To make a long/sad story short, not only was the installation difficult, but when it was complete I was left with an unusable computer.

Crashes, delays and freezes were the order of the day. Backward compatibility with programs designed to run on XP was not Vista's strong point. Officials at Microsoft actually asked whether they could see the computer to determine what went wrong. Six months later, they sent it back; it was still unusable.

To Microsoft's credit, the company has got Vista to work in subsequent years. I'm still not sure I would run the 32-bit version on any of my computers. (For the record, nearly all of them run XP.) But, Kernel Thomas,

TheStreet.com's

IT guru, says the 64-bit version of Vista is terrific, and he has it running on as many computers as possible.

This brings us to the next official version of Microsoft's OS. This one won't be sporting a fancy name -- it's simply called Windows 7. The new system is said to be fast and stable, two things you never heard Microsoft say about Vista at the beginning. The impression I got from the many computers running Windows 7 here on the Consumer Electronics Show floor was that this OS can boot up in just a few seconds and allows you flexibility never before possible in Windows. In other words, it's Vista that works.

(

Photo gallery: 2009 Consumer Electronics Show

)

During Wednesday night's keynote address, Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer mentioned that the free public Beta of 7 (in English, Arabic, Chinese, German and Russian versions) would be available for download beginning at noon Friday through the rest of January.

The problem was Microsoft didn't expect such a huge response -- or that its server would be overloaded. Too many people wanted to try the new software at the same time.

But at last, I have been able to download a copy of the new OS and plan to install it as soon as I get home. I tried getting it onto both of the Asus Eee PCs I brought with me to Las Vegas, but neither had enough storage space available. Windows 7 is asking for an extra 9GB of free space, and neither solid-state storage versions of the Eee can do that. For the record I did see an Eee running the W7 beta at Microsoft's booth.

For those who plan on waiting, Microsoft won't say exactly when it will release the final version of 7, but industry experts believe the new OS will be preloaded on new computers in time for the 2009 Christmas holiday shopping season.

Gary Krakow is TheStreet.com's senior technology correspondent.