Normally, Windows 7 file management ignores the read-only attribute. You can delete read-only files in Explorer or in cmd.exe command prompt without any need to remove the attribute. There is no additional prompting or notification, so it's effectively as if the attribute wasn't set. Some attempts to overwrite the file can be stopped by the attribute, so the read-only attribute isn't totally pointless.
When a file has hard links (or in other words, is associated with multiple directory entries), weird things happen. It seems as if there is one read-only attribute for the file itself which affects all of the file's directory entries, and an attribute cache associated with directory entries (file names). When you change the attribute for one name, you change it for all names, but attrib will give you incorrect old information for other names. The cache is updated when you attempt to overwrite or delete the file, and attrib will then provide accurate results.
If you try to delete a read-only file with multiple directory entries in cmd.exe, it will fail with "Access is denied." Explorer may fail to delete the file in some situations, incorrectly telling you that the file is in use.