Windows 7 Launches With a Touch of Kindle

At the unveiling in New York today, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer launched the widely anticipated upgrade to Windows Vista. Some watchers say the launch could be the most important software release of the year.

"I am Steve Ballmer and I am a Windows 7 PC, effective immediately," Ballmer said in his opening remarks at the downtown Skylight Studios with hundreds of press, analysts and partners 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."

The event was more a coronation than a launch, since Windows 7 was actually released to manufacturing over the summer. Today's launch marks retail availability of Windows 7, as PC vendors roll out their first systems based on the new OS. Indeed, most of the features demonstrated today were similar to those first shown last year at the Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in Los Angeles. The cycle will come full circle at next month’s PDC event, which will serve as the official launch of Windows 7 for developers, Microsoft said.

Reach out and Touch
There was one surprise: Microsoft said that Amazon will offer its Kindle e-book reader platform for Windows 7 PCs, specifically targeted at touch-based devices. 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 device, Wilson believes it will be used to supplement the Kindle. "I think most people will use it as a companion, not a replacement," he said.

OEMs such as Acer, Fujitsu and others 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 customer input, Wilson said.

Despite skepticism that touch interfaces will ever achieve critical mass, Microsoft is pulling out all the stops to promote the interface. Microsoft said it believes the integration and developer tools offered to build touch-enabled application 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 Research analyst Frank Gillett was among those who looked at the new Kindle app in the partner pavilion. He said the success Microsoft has 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.

'A Generational Change'
Despite uncertainties of how quickly customers will upgrade to Windows 7, Gillett believes it has a better future than Vista. "This feels like a generational change," he said "It brings together a lot of interactivity and I think it will stick."

Ballmer showcased numerous, previously-demonstrated features of Windows 7, including its ability to connect to networks and printers more easily, set up wireless networks more intuitively and to work in the home entertainment environment. He also showcased features that will appeal to business users, such as a laptop that could 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 a graphics processor on a small integrated board, allowing for high-definition, quality presentation. One configuration consisted of an NVIDIA graphics processor and an Intel Atom-based CPU with 2 GB of memory. Many of these new systems will be priced below $500.

Microsoft also emphasized improved performance and security, as well as the widely touted new Taskbar and support for features such as Snap, which make it easier for workers to view multiple windows side-by-side. "We are trying to make the everyday usage of the PC better," Ballmer said.

Ballmer talked up the effort that went into improving the development of Windows 7, following the failure of Windows Vista 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.

It remains to be seen whether and how quickly Windows 7 will jump-start the struggling PC business, despite rave reviews for the new OS. Hiroshi Ishimura, a senior vice president at Toshiba, said he believes Windows 7 will help kick start sales. However, he expects enterprise customers to lag 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 nine years old," Foster said in an interview, adding that the performance, security features and more modern usability will appeal to businesses. "We’re excited about our position in the enterprise."


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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