Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Microsoft bets on Windows success

Speaking at the official launch of Windows 7 in London, Microsoft executives said they had listened to consumers and delivered a more streamlined, feature-packed system. It follows widespread criticism of predecessor Vista. Windows 7 faces stiff competition from rival operating systems and new ways of storing applications. In the UK, the software giant will tie up with Sky to offer its on-demand Sky Player service. It will allow consumers to watch a range of live and on-demand TV programmes via the Windows Media Center, which is included in most editions of Windows 7. Microsoft's UK managing director Ashley Highfield said Windows 7 marked a "new dawn in Microsoft's relationship with the consumer". "Windows 7 is much more than a collection of new features. We have listened to what consumers want and they want something that makes their lives easier," said Mr Highfield. The operating system has already been in beta testing among eight million official users, and a farther seven million unofficial testers have also used it. The software giant used one billion data sessions to find out how people navigate with Windows; information such as how many times people visit the start menu - around 12 times per session - and how many windows they have open at any one time - between two and seven is the average. So far Windows 7 seems to have had a good reception. According to electrical retailer DSGi, which includes UK high street brands PC World and Currys, there have been more people buying pre-ordered copies of Windows 7 in the last three weeks than for the whole first year of Vista sales. "It hasn't taken Microsoft to hype it up, the blogosphere is saying it is a good product," said Jeremy Fennel, a director at DSGi. Some 60% of consumers surveyed by DSGi said they were holding off buying a new PC or laptop until Windows 7 was launched. Often-used applications can be dragged into the taskbar and users can view a thumbnail shot of all the windows they have open. Microsoft has acknowledged that the Windows pop-ups that interrupt users are "rude". With Windows 7 users can customise how and when they view such pop-ups. There is also a feature that allows users to "snap" two windows together to make reading and comparing easier and a facility that allows all open windows to be minimised at the shake of a mouse. The software giant has decreased the amount of time the system takes to boot up and has improved battery life and reduced memory - an acknowledgment that many people will want to use Windows on laptops rather than desktops. For Internet Explorer 8, which is installed in the new operating system, there are improved security features including Smart Screen Filtering, which intercepts suspicious downloads and warns users that they are unsafe. There are also offered improved services in add-ons such as Windows Live Photo Gallery and Movie Maker. Windows still runs on 90% of the world's computers but it is a internet-dominated landscape that Windows 7 enters. It has led commentators to suggest that Windows is becoming an irrelevance. More and more applications are being written for so-called cloud computing - which supports popular apps such as web-based email and social networks in data centres rather than on individual computers. It is an area Microsoft is keen to exploit and last year it unveiled its own cloud computing service called Azure, dubbed "Windows for the cloud". Windows also faces stiff competition from free operating systems, such as the Linux-based Ubunto system which launches its newest version next week and arch-rival Google's Chrome OS. Many though remain loyal to the Microsoft universe and for those wishing to upgrade from Vista, the software giant has promised a "seamless" experience. It acknowledged that upgrades from older operating systems might be "more difficult." "XP has been on the market for ten years so we recommend that people wait until they are ready to purchase a new PC or do a clean install," said Julie Larson-Green, Microsoft's vice president of user experience. Some experts cautioned against rushing out and buying it. John Bogue, from Which? Computing, said: "Software bugs are par the course for newly released programs, and operating systems are no exception. Unless you like downloading patches and updates, we recommend waiting a year." The home edition of Windows 7 is available in the UK for £79.99 until 1 January. After that it will cost £99.99.

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