Page last updated at 07:19 GMT, Wednesday, 21 October 2009 08:19 UK

Microsoft unleashes new Windows

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The BBC's Jason Palmer investigates Windows 7's pros and cons

Personal computers are about to get a makeover with the launch of the latest Windows operating system.

Microsoft is hoping the successor to Vista will be more of a hit with users when it launches on 22 October.

Many of the features take into account multimedia applications and the fact that users are beginning to store their data on the internet.

In the UK some computer stores are due to open at midnight so keen PC users can get their hands on the software.

Microsoft is encouraging people to hold Windows 7 launch parties and has gone as far as to prepare party packs for those willing to get their friends together to mark the release.

Low key

Rick Munday from computer manufacturer Medion on touch screen features

PC World said it would open its flagship store on London's Tottenham Court Road at midnight on 21 October to sell the operating system.

Tech support staff will be on hand to answer queries about installing the software.

Despite this, the launch of Windows 7 is likely to be a low key event compared to launches of earlier incarnations of Windows. In the past Microsoft has called on the Rolling Stones and comedian Jerry Seinfeld to help launch its new operating system.

The formal launch will take place over several days in New York at a series of events that will see appearances by Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer and other senior executives. Many PC firms are expected to unveil Windows 7 machines on launch day.

Microsoft has partnered with Seth MacFarlane, creator of Family Guy, to produce a Windows 7 themed TV show that will air on 8 November.

The launch of Windows 7 also coincides with the opening of the first Microsoft retail store in Scottsdale Arizona that will showcase and sell Microsoft compatible goods. A second store is planned for a mall in Mission Viejo, California.

Six editions

Bill Gates in front of Windows 98

Windows 7, formerly codenamed Blackcomb and Vienna, is being released less than three years after the launch of Vista.

The operating system will be released in six separate editions. The versions PC users are most likely to see on shop shelves are the Home Premium and Professional editions.

Other versions are aimed at users in developing nations and corporate customers. All but the most basic edition of the software will be available in 32 and 64 bit versions.

Those buying a family pack of Windows 7 will be able to install the software on up to three PCs.

A Home Premium edition of the software will cost £79.99 until 1 January 2010, at which point it will go up to £99.99.

While Microsoft claims Vista has been a success, in that it has sold more than its predecessor Windows XP, analysts have levelled many criticisms at the software including the heavy demands it puts on PC resources.

By the end of the week, I looked at what I was doing on the tiny screen - and found that just about everything involved software not made by Microsoft
Rory Cellan-Jones, BBC Technology correspondent

By contrast Windows 7 boots up more quickly and is designed to work on low cost portable machines known as netbooks.

Vista runs poorly on such machines. Sales of small network-centred machines have boomed over the past few years.

Windows 7 has greater support for multi-touch interfaces, handwriting recognition and improvements to its ability to work with multi-core processors. Changes have also been made to the familiar taskbar that most users have at the bottom of the screen.

Some of the features will be familiar to Apple Mac users as similar functions have been rolled out in Mac operating systems.

While Windows 7 has won praise in its beta, or trial, versions, some experts cautioned against rushing out and buying it.

John Bogue, from Which? Computing, said: "Software bugs are par the course for newly released programs, and operating systems are no exception. Unless you like downloading patches and updates, we recommend waiting a year."



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