This will be remembered as a landmark year for computer operating systems. In 2009, Apple’s new Snow Leopard system is slated to debut, and Palm will offer an all-new smart phone system called Palm WebOS.

Those with a first look at Snow Leopard say it tweaks the original Leopard operating system, with significant improvements of interest to developers.

The official release of Microsoft’s Windows 7 will affect more users. It will show up in new computers this fall, and Vista upgrades to Windows 7 should be available at about the same time.

The new system solves many of the compatibility and performance problems of Vista. When Vista was first released, it didn’t work properly with accessories, such as printers, until vendors made software fixes.

For Windows 7, developers were told to enforce a rule that “if it works in Vista, it will work in 7.” Upgrades from Windows XP, however will not be supported, according to Business Week tech expert Stephen Wildstrom.

The Wall Street Journal’s Walter Mossberg is enthusiastic about 7. Even in test form, he says, it “leaves Vista in the dust,” and is a pleasure to use.

It has fewer nag screens than Vista and is faster. Mossberg says it could be a serious competitor for Apple’s current Leopard system. He doesn’t know how it will compare to Apple’s coming Snow Leopard.

Windows 7 has flashy, multitouch screen navigation. Borrowing from Apple’s OS X, it has a simplified task bar at the bottom of the screen. It shows a single icon for every program you have open. There is a simple option that let’s you put an icon into the taskbar.

Vista’s Mail, Calendar, Photo Gallery, Movie Maker and Address Book programs are removed. To get similar free programs, you have to download them from Window’s Live service or alternatives from another company.