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Windows 7: Can Microsoft reboot reputation and give the tech sector a jolt?

October 22, 2009 | 11:12 am
Steve Ballmer Microsoft
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer speaking at CeBit in March. Credit: Kay Nietfeld / European Press Photo Agency.

With more than 8 million "beta testers" using Windows 7 since January and dozens of reviews already published, virtually every aspect of Microsoft's new operating system is already public knowledge prior to this morning's "launch" -- except one.

Can Windows 7 repair Microsoft's reputation and trigger enough sales to pull the technology sector out of the economic funk?

Steve Ballmer certainly hopes so. The Microsoft chief executive and impresario known for his highly energetic speaking style this morning kicked off the launch of its latest computer operating system by saying, "Today is an important day for the computer industry, certainly for Microsoft and I hope perhaps even most importantly for all of the customers around the world."

Much rides on the success of Windows 7. Microsoft is counting on it to lift its sales, which fell last fiscal year for the first time since the company went public in 1986. Computer makers and software companies are praying that Windows 7 will set off a wave of demand for their products, which have been dampened by the recession as buyers postponed PC purchases or opted for ultra-cheap netbooks over full-fledged computers.

Even consumer electronics companies see Windows 7-based computers as a way to make their devices sexier as gateways for entertainment programs on-demand.

"Windows needs to be an incredible opportunity innovation for hardware companies and software companies," Ballmer said at the company's kick-off event in New York. "Windows 7 takes us a step closer to the vision we articulated ... around the three screens -- the PC, the phone and the TV, all communicating across the cloud, the Internet backbone."

Ballmer tried to nail the point home by ...

... showcasing a multitude of computers and devices running on the Windows 7 operating system. Among the gee-whiz gadgets highlighted at the event:

  • A laptop that wirelessly charges when placed on top a special surface, using induction technology.
  • A 32-inch touch-screen digital television from Hewlett-Packard that serves up movies from Netflix and prime-time TV shows from CBS.
  • The world's thinnest notebook, a Dell Adamo XPS that measures 9.99 millimeters.
  • An Acer tablet with a touch screen running an interactive, color version of Amazon's Kindle digital book reader software.

Microsoft went out of its way to list the names of other companies using Windows 7 to add features they hope will entice reluctant consumers -- Sony, Denon, Nvidia and Lenovo, to name a few.

Windows 7 IDC Report According to a study conducted by research firm IDC and sponsored by Microsoft, for every dollar the Redmond, Wash. company generates from selling Windows 7, other companies reap more than $18 by selling products and services around the operating system. A projected breakdown of the revenue is represented in the chart to the right.

In addition, the report estimated that Windows 7 would create 300,000 information technology jobs worldwide, accounting for about 30% of the global growth in IT employment.

Granted, Microsoft paid the tab for this study. But the company is also attempting to learn from a mistake it made when it launched its last operating system, Vista, in 2006.

After Vista came out, complaints flooded in. The operating system was too large for many computers to handle. Software programs had difficulty installing smoothly. And it didn't play nicely with other devices, including some printers and cameras. In short, Microsoft took for granted the thousands of companies that revolved around its operating systems.

This time around, the company took pains to make sure Windows 7 could handle the multitude of devices and programs available, recruiting 8 million beta testers and soliciting feedback from 50,000 engineers from outside companies for months before releasing the product.

Will it help Microsoft repair the damage to its reputation inflicted by Vista and help stimulate limping tech spending?

"It certainly looks more promising than when Vista came out," said IDC analyst Richard Shim.

-- Alex Pham

Follow my random thoughts on games, gear and technology on Twitter @AlexPham.