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Ballmer Talks Up Windows 7 at NYC Launch Event

In what some industry watchers say could be the most important software release of the year, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer formally unveiled Windows 7 on Thursday at a ceremony in New York City.

"I am Steve Ballmer and I am a Windows 7 PC, effective immediately," Ballmer said in his opening remarks at the downtown Skylight Studios, where hundreds of press, analysts and partners were in attendance. "Today is an important day for the computer industry, certainly for Microsoft and most importantly the customers around the world to share this new experience."

While the event marks Windows 7's retail availability, it was more of a coronation than a launch, as Windows 7 was released to manufacturing over the summer. Indeed, most of the features Ballmer demonstrated today were similar to those first shown last year at the Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in Los Angeles.

Ballmer showcased numerous Windows 7 features, including its ability to connect to networks and printers more easily, set up wireless networks more intuitively, and work in the home entertainment environment. He also showcased features that may appeal to business users, such as the ability of a Windows 7 laptop to boot in 15 seconds thanks to its ability to load multiple drivers simultaneously.

Also featured at the event was a new generation of netbooks, including some that have the CPU, memory and graphics processor on a small integrated board, allowing for high-definition-quality presentations. One configuration consisted of an NVIDIA graphics processor and an Intel Atom-based CPU with 2GB of memory. Many of these new systems will be priced below $500.

Microsoft also emphasized Windows 7's improved performance and security, as well as the widely touted new Taskbar and support for features such as Snap, which makes it easier for users to view multiple windows side-by-side.

"We are trying to make the everyday usage of the PC better," Ballmer said.

Ballmer also talked up the effort that went into improving the development of Windows 7 following Vista's failure to appeal to enterprise customers and consumers. The Windows 7 team consisted of 3,000 engineers, 8 million beta testers and input from 50,000 various partners, Ballmer said.

Despite rave reviews, it remains to be seen whether and how quickly Windows 7 will jump-start the struggling PC business. Hiroshi Ishimura, a senior vice president at Toshiba, said he believes Windows 7 will help kick-start sales, but he expects enterprise customers to lag behind the consumer business. "I think enterprises will [upgrade] next year. Maybe by the summer, they will start to buy," he said.

A recent Forrester Research report concurs. The "US and Global IT Outlook: Q3 2009" report, released in early October, predicts that computer equipment sales will increase by 8.3 percent in 2010.

That could explain why Dave Foster, general manager of Microsoft's OEM division, is bullish. "Windows XP is literally 9 years old," Foster said in an interview, adding that Windows 7's performance, security features and more modern usability will appeal to businesses. "We're excited about our position in the enterprise."

As for how it will compare to Vista, Forrester Research analyst Frank Gillett believes Windows 7's outlook is promising. "This feels like a generational change," he said. "It brings together a lot of interactivity and I think it will stick."

Reach Out and Touch
In addition to the formal announcement of Windows 7, there was one surprise at the event: Microsoft said that Amazon will offer its Kindle e-book reader platform for touch-enabled Windows 7 tablet PCs. A beta version will be available next month.

By downloading the free reader, individuals can use a tablet as they would a Kindle. "It will work on any touch-based laptop," said Austin Wilson, director of Windows product management, during an interview in a partner pavilion at the launch.

While a Kindle-enabled tablet PC could function as a primary e-book reader, Wilson believes most will use it to supplement the Kindle. "I think most people will use it as a companion, not a replacement," he said.

OEMs such as Acer and Fujitsu said they will release new tablet-based laptops that support capacitive-based touch functionality. Unlike traditional resistive-based touch systems, these devices will be more reactive to user input, Wilson said.

Despite skepticism from some quarters that touch interfaces will ever achieve critical mass, Microsoft is pulling out all the stops to promote the interface. The company said it believes the integration and the developer tools available to build touch-enabled applications will broaden its appeal beyond vertical niches like health care and retail. "I think touch has a good opportunity in the business world," Wilson said.

Forrester's Gillett was among those who looked at the new Kindle app in the partner pavilion. He said Microsoft's success in promoting touch will depend on the developer ecosystem. "Touch is great, but Web sites and applications will have to be optimized to support numerous different environments," Gillett said.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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