Your questions: has Vista lived up to the expectations for end users?
"Do you feel Vista lived up to the expectations for Windows users? What key benefits do you think, if any, were in support of the “wow” factor Microsoft promised its clients?"
(For more on Vista, see http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/windowsvista/default.mspx)
In a word, yes. But individual needs and benefits vary. And I'll note that Vista has just released, so there is room to add to the positive customer experience, and continue to fulfill customer expectations. (See also my related post on Dell's announcement to offers Windows XP and Vista to customers.)
First, I'd steer you to the Windows Vista new features list site to take a look at what's what. For deploying and supporting Vista from an IT Professional perspective, I'll point you to the Technet Windows Vista site.
Personally, I like the new user interface and experience in Vista, esecially the addition of the Vista Sidebar and Gadgets, with small thumbnail looks at windows open on the desktop (from the taskbar), and the slick folder icons that also offer a quick preview into the folder before you open it. The new improvements to Windows Movie Maker, the new Windows Photo Gallery and security improvements have been noted broadly (some even in Apple's parodies), as has improved hardware and peripheral support. For me, this provided some of the "wow."
I've recently ordered more memory for my notebook, given I'm running Windows Vista and Office 2007 in addition to other new applications that will benefit from the added legroom.
Rob Pegoraro of the Washington Post has a god article in his article "Vista, for Better and Worse" that offers a good initial look, particularly noting the need to first evaluate your current machine if you are considering an upgrade:
"Nobody should think of buying Vista without first running Microsoft's free Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor ( http://microsoft.com/windowsvista/getready) to see if his hardware and software measures up."
Also see the reviews in PC Magazine on Vista and Paul Thurrott's initial review on his winsupersite (http://www.winsupersite.com/) -- I agree with most of his Good and Bad points.
There are caveats, as I have noted on my blog, particularly related to machines that simply aren't worth the move to Vista right now (primarily our machine in the kid's playroom, and the computer I use with Digidesign's ProTools system, both on Windows XP SP2).
Also see my posts on Should I upgrade to Windows Vista? and 10 Things You Need to Know about Deploying Windows Vista.