Is Microsoft's mojo back?

In anticipation of its global launch on October 22, Microsoft this week hosted a Windows 7 media event in downtown Toronto to showcase the new operating system's features, performance and interface.

Hardware manufacturers such as HP, Dell, Lenovo and Sony were on hand to unveil new machines debuting with the new operating system (o/s), including ultra-portable "netbooks," full-featured laptops and even powerhouse gaming towers.

If the less-than-favourable reviews of Microsoft's last o/s (2006's Windows Vista) are any indication, a lot rests on Windows 7. Compounding the pressure on the software giant is the fact its key rival, Apple, has nearly doubled its computer market share in Canada over the past five years, now hovering around the 10 percent mark (IDC).

* More on Windows

Positive buzz
Can Microsoft pull it off? The early reports suggest they have - and in spades.

"Windows 7 is an impressive piece of work" believes Carmi Levy, a leading independent technology analyst, based in London, Ont. "It's snappy and streamlined, which allows it to get out of the way so you can focus on the things that matter most, like getting your work done."

Levy says the cleaner interface consolidates important features and settings in easy-to-find places, which makes it "simple enough for my technophobe mother to navigate on her own."

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Unlike Windows Vista and its relatively steep system requirements, Levy says Microsoft has made Windows 7 leaner and more scalable for many kinds of PCs. "It works nicely on lower-end hardware, too, which is great news for people who want to access every last feature of their operating system, even if their budget doesn't allow them to buy the biggest, most powerful machine." "This is an added bonus for the growing legions of netbook users" Levy adds.

Andy Walker, general manager of the popular technology video site Butterscotch.com, mirrors much of Levy's sentiment. "Windows 7 is a really lean, mean operating system that's jam packed with loads of great features." "I think it's going to be a huge hit." The Toronto-based Walker adds Windows 7 is a "tighter, brighter version of Windows Vista, will all the flaws knocked out of it and all the promise of performance brought back."

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Challenges lie ahead
While critics appear optimistic about the computer software, they're also quick to point out the company has an uphill battle ahead - especially among those disappointed with Windows Vista.

"I think people will love Windows 7" reiterates Walker, "but it's no secret Microsoft has lost a lot of trust with the public after launching the much maligned Windows Vista." "So, I suspect people will be initially a bit leery of yet another new operating system, though I think they will eventually be won over once Windows 7 is released and people see what a great operating system it is."

Levy maintains Microsoft's key challenges revolve around keeping ahead of the ever-growing torrent of threats that target users of personal computers. "Whether it's viruses, Trojans, worms or other forms of malware, the operating system is under constant siege, and Microsoft must continue to make the update process transparent and straightforward" says Levy.

Spared no expense
MSN.ca sat down with Sue Borden, Microsoft Canada's Windows Consumer Marketing Manager, at the Windows 7 hardware event, to chat about what went into this much-hyped o/s.

"We're here to demonstrate how Windows 7 will change the way consumers will interact with their PC" explains Borden. "It's much faster to boot and run applications, it's easier to use, better on power management for longer battery life, and has fewer notifications - something consumers didn't like in Windows Vista." At the same time, Borden says Microsoft has added new features such as DLNA integration for connected devices (such as the ability to stream media from a PC to a DLNA-enabled television), touch-screen support and handy "snap" windows to easily look at apps side-by-side.

"Windows 7 is the gel that enables our device partners to make cool PCs" says Borden, on the computer makers that showcased new computers at the event. "As you can see, there's a lot more out there than Apple" adds Borden, with a smile.

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"We did a lot of listening from Windows Vista users, which resulted in surveying a quarter of a million people, and collecting and analyzing user data from eight million people in 200 countries" says Borden.

Another impressive stat: more than 3,000 Microsoft employees -- such as programmers, designers and project managers - worked on Windows 7 for more than three years, gearing up for the Oct. 22 launch.

Canadian pricing for Windows 7 ranges from $130 to $350, depending which version is purchased: home premium, professional and ultimate editions, and whether the o/s is an upgrade or full version.