First View: Can magnificent Seven rescue the reputation of Microsoft?

  • @rhodri

Windows, in its many and various forms, is installed on somewhere between 88 per cent and 93 per cent of the world's computers; to extrapolate that vague figure even more inaccurately, that's somewhere around a billion machines.

Indeed, Windows is so hilariously dominant in the marketplace that discussions of the merits of relative minnows such as Macintosh, Linux or Google's emerging Android OS sometimes feels as niche as pondering Kettering Town's impressive start to the football season.

But we've stopped talking about Windows of late, because – at least for the average PC user – time has effectively been standing still. The last major upgrade, January 2007's Vista, wasn't just badly received; it effectively became a dirty word in the public consciousness, with umpteen initial problems including speed issues and poor compatability with peripherals.

As a result, huge numbers stubbornly stuck with Windows XP, whose original incarnation dates back to September 2001. XP's status as the system that stubbornly refuses to perish has been a thorn in the side of Microsoft ever since Vista's launch, and the one thing they couldn't afford to do was to mess up again and leave a huge user base striding into the next decade using a creaking OS that's unable to cope with the myriad new technologies being thrown at it. Their approach was to initiate a colossal brain-picking process involving thousands of developers and companies, with the product itself then vigorously road-tested by several million loyal Windows users.

Of course, it's almost a cliché for a company to portray itself as a listening entity, but the fact is that Microsoft simply couldn't afford not to. So, what did we tell them? Apparently we wanted Windows to be "simpler", "faster", and "less cluttered"; these are things that you'd imagine Microsoft could have worked out without our help, but they promise that Windows 7 does indeed tick all these boxes.

Visually it's no revolution, with many elements of Windows 95 still hanging about, but the interface is more stylish: there's an enhanced Taskbar (possibly inspired by Apple?); the introduction of Libraries significantly speeds up the process of locating files on your machine; and AeroPeek is a speedy route to finding a particular window when several dozen are open at once.

Behind the scenes it's more power efficient, there's an improved graphics engine, home networking has been simplified, and anyone overly fearful of getting disparate gadgets to work in tandem with their PC can probably rest easy, because Windows 7 appears to accept all-comers. Are there downsides? Of course.

It's Windows, so it'll be hammered by trojans and viruses, so you'll still need third-party antivirus software to beat them off. And if you use XP, upgrading to Windows 7 is a gruelling procedure – possibly an attempt by Microsoft to get us to buy new machines, plenty of which are flooding the market this week. A PC World survey has revealed that 44 per cent of PC users aren't that excited about Windows 7. But that still leaves 56 per cent of an enormous number of people, which is, well, an enormous number of people. Little wonder that Windows 7 has broken sales records at Amazon this week – even if our main reason for buying it is that it's not its much-maligned predecessor.