Every now and again, tiny tech bloggers like me get a break and are invited to events alongside “real journalists”. So, here I am, at London’s Hospital Club, brushing shoulders with the UK’s mainstream media – from the BBC and Sky through to TechRadar and The Register, covering Microsoft’s Windows 7 Launch.
Windows 7 is like no other operating system release that I’ve known. Unlike its predecessor, it’s enjoyed massive press support from the outset, with a widespread beta programme (around 8 million official users and 7 million more “unofficial ones”), a solid release candidate and the software itself was released several weeks ago. Volume license customers, developers, technology specialists and Microsoft partners have had access to the final release of Windows 7 for almost three months, evaluation copies are available on the web – and this operating system already runs on a huge number of the world’s PCs – that’s before it’s even launched! I don’t remember this much buzz around any new Windows release – at least not since Windows 95.
Tomorrow marks the general availability of Windows 7 in the retail channel, making it the de facto choice for consumers and small businesses when purchasing new PCs – 14 million of which are expected to be sold in the UK over the next year – and many of those who have purchased PCs since July are also entitled to an upgrade.
Ashley Highfield, MD and VP of Consumer and Online at Microsoft UK, said that Windows 7 marks a pivotal turning point for Microsoft – listening to consumers and understanding what they want – to offer simple, easy, fun computing – whether at home or work.
He explained that the UK is at a tipping point where a survey indicated that around 78% of people see the work/life balance as fluid – there is no more “9 to 5″ and many of us expect to access social media at work, in exchange for working on e-mail at home in the evening. In addition, Internet advertising revenues now exceed those for TV advertising, and the sales of PCs exceeded televisions this summer, marking a fundamental shift in audience behaviour.
Microsoft’s ultimate vision is often described as “3 screens and a cloud” (devices, PCs and TV) – in effect Microsoft is the glue to bind together our digital lives and Windows 7 is key to building that vision.
I’m used to working with Microsoft in the enterprise space – where they are either recognised as a provider of software development tools or of IT business and infrastructure applications. But, for the consumer, Highfield explained that Microsoft’s offerings have been a little patchy over last few years… I don’t think I heard the word “Vista” uttered once by Microsoft at today’s press launch – it’s almost as if it’s become V-v-v-the-operating-system-that-must-not-be-named.
Microsoft believe that Windows 7 is an exemplar of change – alongside Bing, Windows Live services, Windows Phone, and Xbox 360 it marks a new dawn for Microsoft’s relationship with its consumers.
So, what’s so great about Windows 7?
Julie Larson-Green, Microsoft Corporate VP for Windows Experience was heavily involved in the programme to bring Windows 7 to market. After presiding over the Office 2007 release, with its controversial ribbon user interface, Windows 7 could have gone either way but I really believe that Microsoft has done a good job with Windows 7.Â Larson-Green credits this to the diagnostic information that Microsoft received via the Customer Experience Improvement Programme – so much data that they had to cap the results at 1 billion sessions. This information allowed Microsoft to validate their research on how to simplify everyday tasks.Â In addition, pre-beta copies of Windows 7 were distributed to developers as long ago in late 2008, allowing them to start developing applications for the new platform. today, more than 16,000 software and hardware companies are building solutions on Windows 7 and over 44,000 developers are enrolled in the Windows Ecosystem Readiness Program.
Leila Martine, Windows Consumer Business Group Lead at Microsoft UK talked about how Windows 7 delivers on a simple promise: making it easier for people to do the things they want on a PC. The new operating system offers a streamlined user interface and significant new features that make everyday tasks easier and allow people to get the most out of computers of all styles and sizes.Â The following are a few of the many ways that consumers can experience a more simplified PC with Windows 7:
- Simplifies everyday tasks:
- Taskbar: completely redesigned to help cut clutter, and get more done, with features like thumbnail previews of webpages, documents and even running video.
- HomeGroup:Â easily share files and printers with other Windows 7 PCs.
- DeviceStage: shows the status of all connected devices such as cameras and mobile phones, making it easier to synchronise and manage them.
- Photos and Videos: Windows Live Photo Gallery and Windows Live Movie Maker offer customers great free options to edit photos and videos, then to easily share them including uploading to popular websites such as Flickr and YouTube.
- Snap: drag an open window to the screenâ€™s border and automatically re-size it. Snap two different windows to the left and right borders for a perfect comparison.
- Shake: click a window pane and shake the mouse to minimise all other open windows.Â Shake the pane again to restore the windows to their original sizes.Â
- Internet Explorer 8: Microsoft’s fastest, easiest, and safest browser ever with many new security features such as SmartScreen filtering.
- Works the way you want:
- Faster on, faster off:Â every Windows 7 user can benefit from the focus on underlying performance, faster startup, resuming and shut down time, together with enhanced power management.
- Mobile made easier: all mobile computing settings are in one place with the Windows Mobility Center.
- Protecting your PC:Â Safeguarding data on the PC is easier with advanced backup capabilities and the free Microsoft Security Essentials download to protect against viruses, spyware, and other malicious software.
- Makes new things possible:
- Windows Touch: interact with the PC with a touch-screen monitor, using fingers and multi-touch gestures.
- PlayTo: stream digital music, videos, and photos to other PCs or devices such as an Xbox 360 connected to a TV.
- Internet TV: new content providers (such as the Sky Player) and an improved interface make it even easier to watch TV on the PC.
- Rich gaming and graphics: Windows 7 includes performance enhancements that take power gaming and entertainment to a new level, with 64-bit support and DirectX11 graphics.
- Location-aware printing â€“ documents are sent to the right printer whether itâ€™s at home or at the office. Offline files allow users to work offline and automatically synchronise between a PC and documents on the office network.
(andÂ that’s not even considering the many business benefits with DirectAccess for clientless VPN connectivity, Branch Cache for efficient file transfers, BitLocker and BitLocker To Go for fixed and removable device encryption, and AppLocker for software control.)
Having worked with Windows 7 for over a year now, I know that the real improvements are subtle.Â When I’m asked why Windows 7 is so great I can’t point to one single feature but I can tell you that if my corporate IT guys tried to take me back to Windows XP they would have one hell of a job prising my PC out of my hands.Â My Windows 7 and Office 2010 desktop includes so many timesaving shortcuts that stepping back to Windows XP and Office 2003 is like going back in time.
What will it cost me?
Windows 7 goes on sale at midnight tonight with estimated retail pricing as follows (although actual pricing may vary by retailer):
- Windows 7 Home Premium Upgrade:Â Â£79.99 until 31 December 2009, Â£99.99 thereafter
- Windows 7 Professional Upgrade:Â Â£189.99
- Windows 7 Ultimate Upgrade:Â Â£199.99
- Windows 7 Home Premium:Â Â£149.99
- Windows 7 Professional:Â Â£219.99
- Windows 7 Ultimate:Â Â£229.99
There are also some limited time deals available including a discounted upgrade of Â£49 with new PC purchased until 2 Jan 2010; a family pack offering 3 licenses for Â£149.99 and the current Student offer of Â£30 for Windows 7 Home Premium or Professional.
Shop around for the best deals
As might be expected, the major UK retailers are committed to Microsoft’s Windows 7 launch and Jeremy Fennel, Category Director at DSGi explained thatÂ they can tell it’s a good product as it hasn’t needed Microsoft to hype it – the press and customers have already done that.Â DSGi’s customer research says that customers want a better user experience with fewer interruptions, better battery life, and faster startup/restart times – with Windows 7 delivering all three.Â
By far the most telling statistic I heard all morning about the potential for Windows 7′s success related to the Windows 7 pre-order offer.Â DSGi experienced what Fennel called “a phenomenal reaction” to this and sold more copies of Windows 7 in 3 weeks than they sold of Vista in the whole of its first year!
Fennel also indicated that awareness of Windows 7 has ramped in the last 4-6 weeks – with 60% of consumers delaying new PC purchases until launch.Â Â In order to build Christmas sales, DSGi’s trade in promotion starts tonight – with up to Â£100 off when trading in old PC at Currys and PC World as well as half price installation (at Â£24.99) and free expert advice from their specialist tech support service, theÂ TechGuys.
That’s just DSGi’s campaign – I have no doubt that other retailers will be similarly competitive in their Windows 7 efforts in the run-up to Christmas.
Windows 7 is a solid, reliable operating system packed with features and functionality that can be used to derive significant benefits for consumers and enterprise customers alike.Â Already enjoying significant interest from press and customers, there is little doubt that this will be a successful release for Microsoft but it will always have it’s detractors, citing problems such as upgrading from XP, cross grading from other product editions, or running obscure applications on PCs cobbled together from various arcane components.Â Even though Windows runs on around a billion PCs worldwide, new computing models threaten its dominance and Microsoft needs to remain relevant in 2010 and beyond. One journalist asked Microsoft how relevant Windows will be by the time that Windows 8 comes along [in 2012] and Ashley Highfield’s response amused me greatly: “Give us a chance we’re just launching Windows 7″ but I’m sure Windows will be with us on the desktop for a while yet – particularly if Microsoft is able to execute their “3 screens and a cloud” vision – and I have little doubt that they will. Windows 7 is important to Microsoft – and it is, quite possibly, the best Windows yet.