NEW YORK–Although the official U.S. launch event is still some hours away, Microsoft’s Windows 7 operating system has hit the market, going on sale in a number of countries across the globe.
Executives from Microsoft have fanned out to celebrate the launch of the company’s core product upon which the rest of Redmond’s empire has been built. The software giant is counting on favorable reviews and new features to help Windows rebuilt its image in the face of a disappointing response to Windows Vista.
Microsoft is touting the value of Windows in the face of a resurgent Apple. As part of the launch, Microsoft is celebrating seven days of deals in a number of key markets, including the United States. Among the specials is a $1,200 package from Hewlett-Packard and Best Buy that includes a Netbook, laptop, desktop, monitor and router as well as in-home installation.
“The Best Buy offer is a home makeover,” Microsoft Vice President Tami Reller told CNET News. “For the price of a Mac you have a new notebook, a new Netbook, a new desktop, and a new router to bring it together with the help of the Geek Squad.”
In addition to landing on new PCs, Microsoft will also sell stand-alone versions of Windows 7 that can be used to upgrade an existing PC. Although Microsoft still offers a half-dozen different flavors of the operating system in all, Redmond is focusing its energies around two versions–the Home Premium and Professional versions.
It will sell both a full version of the operating system that can be used on any hardware as well as an upgrade version to be used on existing PCs. Although both Windows XP and Windows Vista can be upgraded to Windows 7, only Vista can be done without backing up and reinstalling both programs and data.
A huge marketing blitz will accompany the debut of Windows 7, with Microsoft continuing its “I’m a PC” campaign, by featuring average users who point to various aspects of the new operating system as representing their idea.
Microsoft plans to formalize the launch with an event here with CEO Steve Ballmer (CNET News will cover the 11 a.m. ET event live). The software maker is also opening its first retail store, in Scottsdale, Ariz., as well as a “Windows Cafe” in Paris.
Steven Sinofsky, the divisional president who has spearheaded the development of Windows 7, is presiding over the Japanese launch of the product, while designer Julie Larson-Green is at an event in London.
Microsoft employees in Redmond’s Building 37 plan to remotely ring the bell to open Nasdaq trading on Thursday, while Microsoft and its computer maker partners will ring the closing bell.
The product has already gone on sale in Australia.
Although Windows 7 has been praised for loading and shutting down faster than prior versions of Windows, one software company says that, in many cases, the new operating system can take longer to get started than Windows Vista.
Iolo Technlogies, which sells PC tune-up software, said its lab unit found that a brand-new machine running Windows 7 takes a minute and 34 seconds to become usable, as compared to a minute and 6 seconds for Windows Vista. Iolo notes that it measured not the time it takes for the desktop to appear–which can be as little as 40 seconds on a fresh installation of Windows 7–but rather the time it takes to become fully usable “with CPU cycles no longer significantly high and a true idle state achieved.”
The results are also fairly similar to what CNET found in its testing of the operating system. A Microsoft representative was not immediately able to comment on Iolo’s findings.
Iolo plans to release more details on its findings and methodology next week. Although it remains to be seen just how it reached its conclusion, the report is clearly not good news for an operating system whose primary selling point is doing the basics better than past versions of Windows.
I will say that for my part, I have been using Windows 7 for months now and find myself rarely doing a full reboot and instead going in and out of sleep for days at a time–a process that moves particularly quickly.
As is often the case with Windows, Iolo found that things only get worse over time. It found that a three-month-old machine can take up to a minute longer to boot, or 2 minutes and 34 seconds. Windows 7 did outperform Vista at the three-month and six-month marks, Iolo said, but it generally “trailed the older version significantly” in its boot-up tests.
I plan to follow up on this on Monday, when more details about Iolo’s conclusions–and how they were reached–become available.
Updated at 7:20 p.m. PDT: On the plus side, Wall Street Journal reviewer Walt Mossberg is out with his review of Windows 7 and gives it high marks, saying Microsoft now gives Apple a run for its money.
Microsoft on Thursday released Windows XP Mode to manufacturing and said it will make XP Mode available as a public download on Oct. 22, the official launch date for Windows 7.
XP Mode is Microsoft’s acknowledgment that many customers skipped Vista and will be moving to Windows 7 directly from XP, an OS that’s now nearly eight years old. Microsoft says XP Mode is designed for SMBs that have been running older or custom-built applications, and it maintains backward compatibility with these apps through a virtual Windows XP SP3 environment running under Windows Virtual PC.
Microsoft VARs like the backward compatibility approach that XP Mode represents, and many have been using XP Mode as a selling point for Windows 7. Still, there are reasons to believe that XP Mode might not have an immediate impact on Windows 7 upgrades.
Customers that buy Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate editions will get XP Mode as a free download. But they’ll need to buy new hardware, since XP Mode requires PCs with at least 2 gigabytes of RAM and 15 gigabytes of free hard drive space, as well as virtualization-enabled processors from Intel and AMD.
Despite recent signs of economic improvement, it’s worth questioning whether 2010 will see any large-scale loosening of IT purse strings. Given the resiliency of small businesses, and their unmatched ability to do more with less, it’s possible that some will just stay with their XP machines and give XP Mode a miss.