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Today's launch of Windows 7 by Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer marks the end of a 12-month product turn around - one of Microsoft's fastest.
But what price did Microsoft pay to build Windows 7 so quickly? And what should we expect from Microsoft, and the Linux competition, as the company tries to entice people into paying for this latest refresh of the Windows franchise?
Here's what you should know.
The technology was baked long ago
Testers who thought their input on new features mattered in Windows 7 were in for a big disappointment. Microsoft's fast-tracked Windows 7 to avoid a repetition of the delays that afflicted Windows Vista.
The client was unveiled just a year back and there was just a single beta, not the customary two. Features demonstrated at Microsoft's Professional Developers' Conference (PDC) last October and the talking points debated have not changed between then and now: improved performance and start-up times compared to Windows Vista and a simpler interface harking back to Windows 1.0, 95 and XP. Windows 7 does employ Windows Vista's underlying features, such as the Aero interface and its security, meaning much of the heavy lifting had already been done.
Such was the breakneck pace, early testers grew alarmed that Microsoft was railroading development on various builds after January's public beta and - in doing so - not gathering sufficient technical feedback and leaving bugs unfixed. Microsoft smacked down concerned testers saying it was gathering sufficient information from the public beta.
Microsoft's initial goal was for Windows 7 in 2010, conforming to the company's usual three-year Windows client delivery cycle. But immediately after unveiling Windows 7 at PDC last November, Microsoft told partners to expect its latest operating system in Christmas 2009. Release code was shipped in May, four months after the beta test.
The measure of whether Microsoft or the testers is right will surely come when the hard work starts of building on Windows 8 on top of Windows 7.
Virtually speaking, you get Windows XP
Can't let go of your old Windows XP applications? There's a virtualized operating system environment for that. With features largely set by last October and talked about, the only genuine surprise was Windows XP Mode, which emerged later this year.
The system uses Microsoft's desktop virtualization and lets you run Windows XP applications inside the Windows 7 desktop.
But Microsoft doesn't want you to think you can use Window XP Mode to doge the upgrade to Windows 7. It told us that ISVs and end users will only get a Windows XP "experience" when running their Windows XP applications in Windows XP Mode. To experience the full Windows 7 operating system, applications should run natively. And that means conforming to the traditional path of upgrading, testing, and certifying against the latest version of Windows - in this case, Windows 7.
Get ready to be upsold
Microsoft really wants you to buy Windows 7 Home Premium. The idea is to grow market share by getting people that dodged Windows Vista to leave Windows XP. With the technology done since at least since last October, the real action has been in pricing and packaging. As with new versions of Windows past, Microsoft shook up its SKUs, announcing - appropriately - seven packages.
Pricing is largely unchanged, except for Windows 7 Home Premium, which has been cut by almost 10 per cent on an upgrade and 20 per cent for a new copy in regular shopping. As part of a series of summer special offers, Microsoft then cut the price by 75 per cent for those who pre-ordered in a block of three dates ahead of Thursday's launch. Students could get more off Windows 7 with a later offer.
European web surfers have rights, too
Millions of PC users in Europe will get the same browsing capabilities as their peers in the rest of the world, because they'll get Internet Explorer 8 with Windows 7. But it almost didn't happen.
European regulators have fined Microsoft for having abused its market position in browsers to crush the competition. For two months this summer Microsoft decided to bring regulators around to its way of thinking, by taking PC users and OEMs hostage. Microsoft's carefully considered remedy for complying with European antitrust law and still being able to ship Windows 7 in European-Union countries? Deliver Windows 7 minus IE 8 - a package called Window 7 E.
Weeks later, Microsoft put down the gun and let the hostages off the bus. It offered latte-drinking European socialist regulators a deal that would let Windows 7 remain on the right side of the law: a ballot screen that would let users chose rival browsers - a deal that looks like flying. After that, Microsoft killed Windows 7 E and announced pricing and upgrades available in the rest of the world would be available in EU countries.
Linux wants a piece of you, Windows 7
The open-source community's reaction Windows 7 ranges from the biblical to the urbane. Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth typifies the latter, welcoming a clean fight on netbooks, after Microsoft prolonged the life of Windows XP in the shadow of Windows Vista to provide a low-priced and functioning copy of Windows on netbooks against Linux.
From what he's seen, Shuttleworth actually quite likes Windows 7. "I'm not going to 'diss it", he told us around beta time in January. "We are in an awkward situation now because they are giving away XP in the netbook market - they are literally giving it way to OEMs," he claimed then and sticks to now... You can make the argument Linux is more expensive than Windows XP because Microsoft has been very aggressive in licensing." Shuttleworth plans to take on Windows 7 with Ubuntu 9.10, Karmic Koala, due next week.
The Free Software Foundation (FSF), responsible for GPL, went biblical with a letter-writing campaign listing Windows 7 sins. The letter wrapped up seven practical and philosophical points, but the organization might just as well have focused on two - support and pricing - as the penalty of buying into Microsoft's closed-source roadmap.
There will be ads
The time and money spent on the Windows Vista "wow" ad campaign wouldn't have paid for one of Don Draper's tiepins. Microsoft will spend more of both, on the TV and online, to drive uptake of Windows 7.
The signs are already there, with the generic Windows "laptop hunters" ads and its Rada-trained child protégés pushing Windows to hook entire families using its "I'm a PC" message.
Signs are, that the Rada kids will be back. Also, Microsoft's learned the lesson of product placement thanks to the carefully crafted barbs Windows Vista has received from comedian Steven Colbert. Microsoft's enlisted the pop-culture friendly Family Guy to penetrate psyches during our downtime.
Microsoft is desperate to be seen as being as cool as Apple in products and ads - hence The Family Guy placement. Just don't expect Microsoft to follow through based on the back tracking surrounding its IE puke ad posted online. ®
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