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Tue 3 Nov 2009 04:00 AM

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How Microsoft is aiming to bounce back and re-affirm their status as the dominant player with Windows 7.

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VISTA BLUES: Windows Vista was released to retail shelves on January 30 of 2007. To date, Microsoft has released a fully-fledged Service Pack as well as multiple smaller updates. Despite this, the company has still failed to strike a positive chord with consumers. Complaints include poor performance (even on high-end hardware), poor legacy software compatibility and more.
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The last few years have seen Microsoft lose some of its glitter as its Vista operating system didn’t impress many users. Microsoft though are keen to bounce back and re-affirm their status as the dominant player in the operating system market with Windows 7. Here, we examine Microsoft's latest OS after its Middle East launch.

Windows Vista, for many, was a disaster. With its Vista OS not being well received, it gave traction to other players in the market to take hold of the OS sphere. The likes of Apple and Linux operating systems such as Debian and Ubuntu began to assume greater prominence while the anti-Windows vitriol grew ever stronger.

It was with much anticipation then that Windows 7 was launched on 22 October 2009. Globally, Microsoft tried to create much hype around it by having actual ‘launch parties’ and with the company’s advertising campaign that emphasized how users have shaped the development of the operating system. One of the popular ‘catch-phrases’ in this advertising campaign has been “I’m a PC and Windows 7 was my idea”.

Here in the Middle East, the launch of Windows 7 was preceded by GITEX Technology Week 2009. The OS was being shown off at the Shopper and Trade events in Dubai. So, when the launch date rolled over, much of the Middle East could copies of the OS in retail outlets such as Carrefour.

In terms of the versions available in Middle East; Wilson Xavier, Business Group Manager, Microsoft Gulf, says, “we have Windows 7 starter for netbooks, we have Windows 7 home premium for typical home user, Windows 7 professional for a smart home user. Then it branches out into two: Windows 7 Ultimate for IT enthusiasts, and high-end consumer, and Windows 7 enterprise for large enterprises”.

The software leader has also released Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2 and Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 in its new range of products. Microsoft Exchange 2010 is the latest version of the software company's premier enterprise messaging and collaboration solution, featuring new deployment and storage options, enhanced inbox management capabilities and e-mail archiving built in. Furthermore, the launch in the Middle East will also have a road show whereby in the second or third week of November where Microsoft will have a “World tour launch experience across gulf” roadshow in the second and third week of November 2009 in Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar. The road show will target an IT decision making audience, such as IT management, IT Pros and IT partners.

Steven Guggenheimer, Corporate Vice President of the OEM Division at Microsoft, told GITEX Times: "This is another milestone for the company. Our customers asked to make the system simpler and easier to use. Over eight million people tested the system." The flavors

Like its Vista operating system, Microsoft intends to release the forthcoming Windows 7 as a number of different versions. The firm has not yet commented on pricing however.

Due to the economic crisis, the emphasis on the products was placed on money-saving measures for companies implementing the system, according to Rich Reynolds, General Manager, Windows Commercial. "From the testing we carried out, customers were enjoying reduced costs as a result of using Windows 7," he says.

There’s no doubt that Windows 7 is a much-improved and here is the low-down on how some of the features of the operating system look like. The wants

To date Microsoft has released its recommended hardware requirements for only the beta release of Windows 7. These include a 1GHz 32- or 64-bit processor, one gigabyte of RAM, a DirectX 9 compatible video card with 128Mbytes of memory, 16Gbytes of hard disk space, a DVD-ROM and a standard audio card. These requirements are almost identical to the specifications Microsoft recommends for the premium editions of Vista.

Microsoft does note however that "the hardware setup we’re recommending for Windows 7 Beta is meant for average computing tasks, such as web browsing and word processing. If you plan to play games or run other hardware-intensive programs, you might need to test the Windows 7 Beta on a more powerful computer. It might also be possible to run the Windows 7 Beta on a less powerful system than the one we recommend, although we can’t guarantee the results." What's new?

Faster load times

Windows 7 starts up fast. Compared to its predecessors Vista and XP, Windows 7 starts up, shuts down, responds and resumes from standby seemingly faster than Vista and XP. One of the reasons why it’s said to have these faster speeds is because Windows 7 has a new service controller that controls how many services are running in the background. The controller also triggers services only when they are needed. Task-bar

The task bar is a classic feature in Windows operating systems. This time though Microsoft have taken things one step further by adding a preview section to the task bar. If you then have multiple programs running, you can hover over an icon in the task bar and then a preview screen will appear just above the task bar.

Jump-lists

A new feature also relating to the task bar is the jump-list feature. This feature involves right clicking on an application tab in the task bar (when the particular program is running), and then viewing common tasks that are relevant to a particular application. Jump lists can be found in the ‘start menu’ as well. (Of course, Windows 7 doesn’t really have a ‘Start’ menu anymore as this feature has been replaced by a Windows logo.)

Gadgets

The sidebar with gadgets that was visible in Vista is no longer the default layout in Windows 7. Users will now be able to put gadgets wherever they want on the desktop. The same default gadgets from Vista are available in Windows 7 and these gadgets can easily be dragged and dropped anywhere on the desktop, as well as configured or closed when the mouse hovers over them. User Account Control

Another big improvement is that of the User Account Control which has been refined in Windows 7. With Vista, the UAC prompted the visitor every time a system change was made. The idea behind the UAC was good as it was intended to cut down on the unintended execution of viruses, but Microsoft have decided to use a sliding bar this time around as opposed to an on/off switch when it comes to UAC.

HomeGroupsUsing Windows 98 you could share files and folders by simply right-clicking a folder and selecting ‘share’. With Windows XP, users either had to add their files to the ‘Shared Documents’ folder or adjust the user accounts on multiple computers to grant access rights. Vista was setup in a similar manner as well and it became a sticking point for many users.

The new homegroup feature on Windows 7 aims to simplify sharing over one network by utilising a password-based system to grant access privileges. To create a homegroup, you can navigate to the Network and Sharing Center and then click on ‘Create HomeGroup.’ You can then set your group password and share any folder on the network, as long as everyone in your ‘group’ is running Windows 7. This helps in sharing files better while offering a suitable level of security.

Device management

In previous Windows versions, you had to use several different screens to manage different types of devices, but with Windows 7, you'll only need to use a single ‘Devices and Printers’ screen to connect, manage, and use whatever printers, phones, and other devices you have on-hand.Windows 7 uses what is called a Device Stage that helps you interact with any compatible device connected to your computer. It allows you to see device status and run common tasks from a single window. Each device is represented by its own picture and there is also a wide list of products that take advantage of this feature.

Windows Media Center

The Media Center has had a facelift in terms of its interface. The guide has been updated to keep whatever show or video playing the background, as the guide information is displayed overlaid. This does away with the current situation, which puts the video picture into a small window in the corner. Browsing future TV listings has been simplified as well. If you hold down the left or right key on either your keyboard or remote, the hours and days flash by in a blur of motion, allowing you to skip ahead in search of potential recordings.

No more annoying messages

If something went wrong in previous versions of Windows, one would normally be presented with an array of annoying alert messages and error messages.

Rather than popping up with a message in the lower right of your screen, if Windows 7 needs your attention, you'll see an Action Center icon and can find out more by clicking it. If you don't have time to look at the alert immediately, Action Center will keep the information waiting for you to address later.

Windows Touch

If you have a touch-screen monitor, you can just touch your computer screen for a more direct and natural way to work. Use your fingers to scroll, resize windows, play media, and pan and zoom. This technology could become regularly used in conjunction with Microsoft's Surface, which is a multi-touch computer in the shape of a table that has embedded cameras and a flat screen that reads multi-touch gestures. It has a niche market, that of the retail, automotive, financial services, health care and hospitality industries. It has, for instance, already been installed in a number of high-end New York hotels. But as to whether or not it will be adopted by the mass market is up for debate. Pump up the performance

Besides the new features and interface changes, Windows 7 is also said to offer performance improvements over its predecessor using the same hardware. Using the latest, final build of the operating system, we decided to run a check on the OS’s everyday performance. It should be noted that your personal mileage will vary depending on your hardware and drivers.

We used Windows 7 Ultimate and compared it to Windows Vista Ultimate. Both operating systems were 32-bit based and were installed on a machine comprising a 3GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme processor, an Asus Maximus Formula motherboard (Intel X38 chipset), 2Gbytes of memory, a Gigabyte GeForce 8 GTX graphics card, a Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 7200rpm hard drive and a DVD-ROM. The machine was connected to a 28-inch Viewsonic VX2835wm LCD screen, which runs at a native resolution of 1920 x 1200 pixels. All tests were run at the monitor’s native resolution.

At this stage Windows 7 is demonstrating impressive performance – the results show the new operating system is faster than its predecessor in the majority of our benchmark tests. In an earlier feature Windows 7's gaming performance wasn't up to par when compared to Vista. At the time we said the performance parity was being caused by beta drivers and we're pleased to say that this time around, using official, final drivers, Windows 7 overtook Vista in two of the three gaming benchmarks. As drivers continue to mature we expect performance could improve even further.

Windows 7 also natively supports SSD drives, so running this OS on any of the new SSDs on the market could boost overall performance in everyday tasks by a reasonable margin. Beyond Windows 7

Every year Microsoft Research holds its annual TechFest event that showcases solutions to some of the world’s most challenging technical problems. The researchers come from labs in as far a field as China, England, India and the United States. At this year’s TechFest, the researchers gathered at the company’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington in February 2009. It is often at events such as these that partnerships are struck up between researchers and product teams and sometimes this research makes its way onto the product shelves in one way or another.

Seeing as Windows 7 is going to play a big part in Microsoft’s future, it is interesting to take a look at what else Microsoft has in store for the future. The company recently put some of its research matter on display at Microsoft’s annual TechFest.

This year at TechFest, there were a number of interesting technologies on display from omni-directional projectors to image centric advertising.

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