October 29, 2008
Microsoft Introduces Windows 7, Ending Vista Brand
By JOHN MARKOFF
LOS ANGELES — Microsoft introduced what it said would be a slimmer and more responsive version of its Windows operating system on Tuesday, while unceremoniously dropping the brand name Vista for the new product.
The new version will instead be branded Windows 7, because it is the seventh of a long line of operating systems for PCs developed by the company since the 1980s. The company did not say when it would sell Windows 7 to the public.
The company also said that it was planning to introduce a Web-based version of its Office programs, which is aimed at heading off a new wave of competitors like Google Docs and Zoho, which have deployed word processors, spreadsheets and presentation programs that run on a Web browser. The company was vague, however, about how it would price the programs and acknowledged that it would face skeptical Wall Street analysts who think the strategy would cannibalize the company’s profitable Office franchise.
After almost two years, Windows Vista is still getting a lackluster reception from consumers and facing a relentless marketing barrage from Apple.
The problem was highlighted last week when Microsoft reported its financial results for the most recent quarter. Its Windows unit reported just a 2 percent rise in revenue against a 4 percent decline in operating income. The computer industry viewed the setback as a shift of historic proportions. The company acknowledged last week that the mix of Windows sales in both mature and emerging markets had tipped more toward low-cost PCs, which come with lower-margin versions of Windows and often not Vista. Sales of Office software rose 23 percent, bringing in more revenue than the operating system.
On Tuesday morning, the company demonstrated Windows 7 before a group of more than 6,000 programmers attending the company’s Professional Developers’ Conference being held here through Thursday.
“We’ve done a lot of work around how you manage the windows, how you launch programs and how you manage the windows of the programs that you’ve launched,” said Steven Sinofsky, the Microsoft technologist who has led the development of the new version of Windows. “It’s all about personalization and putting you in control of the PC, and that’s a big initiative that we’ve had.”
Mr. Sinofsky took the stage and issued an apology of sorts for the problems and frustrations associated with Windows Vista. He said the company had listened to and was responding to the feedback.
“We got feedback from reviews, from the press, a few bloggers here and there, oh, and some commercials,” he said, with a nod to a lengthy Apple advertising campaign that has mercilessly poked fun at Microsoft’s woes.
He also said that he had not taken particular offense at Apple’s ad campaign teasing the giant software developer. However, the laptop did have an “I’m a PC” sticker on its cover, a reference to a recent series of ads Microsoft ran that were widely viewed as a somewhat belated response to Apple. “As an engineering team we have to do what engineers do, when you build a product, when you build a service, you step back and say what have we learned from this, what can we do better, what went well, how do we build on our experience,” he added.
He then demonstrated a “pre-beta” version of Windows, acknowledging that some features were still missing. The presentation focused generally on the more polished control features of Windows 7 including how on-screen notifications are handled, an issue that was an irritant for early Vista users who complained about the nannylike behavior of the software.
Other new features in this very early version included an enhanced and more flexible task-bar, more powerful search features, and an easier-to-use home network and file sharing. There was also a hint that Microsoft plans to revise Windows 7 to take advantage of the coming wave of multicore microprocessors from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices. Mr. Sinofsky said the company would give more details on the ability of the new program to handle up to 256 processors.
Mr. Sinofsky, who previously led the development of the company’s Office application, showed Windows 7 running on a low-priced Lenovo notebook computer equipped with just one gigabyte of memory and a relatively low-power Intel Atom microprocessor. This suggests that the new version of the program will require far fewer resources than its predecessor, although Mr. Sinofsky declined to make specific performance promises.
Microsoft also said that it planned to offer versions of a number of its Office applications via a Web browser instead of as an application on a PC, via the Microsoft Office Live Web service, and to businesses through a hosted subscription.
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company