By Rory Cellan-Jones
Technology Correspondent, BBC News, Los Angeles
A look at Windows 7 from Los Angeles
Microsoft has unveiled the latest version of its Windows operating system.
It promised that it will deliver a better experience for users when it arrives sometime late next year.
Windows 7 follows Vista, which Microsoft claims has been a success, but which has been subject to fierce criticism from a number of users.
The system was demonstrated at the company's Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles.
Senior vice-president Steven Sinofsky described it as an "exciting new version of Windows" and claimed it would deliver a more personalised experience.
When Vista launched in January 2007, many users complained that it ran slowly and failed to work at all with some programs and devices.
Corporate customers have been slow to switch from Windows XP to Vista, although Microsoft said that the operating system had an unfair press, and has enjoyed record sales.
"We got a lot of feedback about Vista," admitted Mr Sinofsky, who runs the Windows business.
He said his team had responded with improvements and had learned some lessons in developing Windows 7.
Among the new features promised in the latest operating system are Windows Touch, which introduces support for multi-touch technology.
This will enable users to zoom in on an image by moving two fingers farther apart - a technology first introduced to millions of users by Apple's iPhone.
A new taskbar aims to give more rapid access to files and programs, with each open window appearing as a graphic thumbnail.
There is also a feature called HomeGroup, allowing users easy sharing of data across PCs and other devices in the home.
And there is more support for devices such as cameras, printers, and mobile phones with a product called Device Stage offering a single window to manage tasks for each device.
Microsoft's chief software architect Ray Ozzie defended Vista and indicated that Windows 7 would be evolutionary rather than revolutionary.
"Vista is a great operating system, it's tremendously functional," he told the BBC. "Windows 7 brings it up a level by enabling it to take advantage of certain hardware innovations. PCs have evolved since Vista was launched," he said.
Microsoft also announced that its Office software will now be available as a web application, so that users can create and share documents across multiple devices.
Google already offers users online applications allowing them to create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations online for free.
Microsoft's Office Web will be supplied to customers who purchase the next edition of Office, but Microsoft stressed that it will provide all the same functions online as are available offline.
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