Microsoft launches Windows 7

Microsoft launched Windows 7 on Thursday, its most important release in more than a decade, aiming to win back customers disappointed by Vista and strengthen its grip on the PC market.

The world's largest software company, which powers more than 90 percent of personal computers, has received good reviews for the new operating system, which it hopes will grab back the impetus in new technology from rivals Apple and Google.

The new system - which is faster, less cluttered and has new touch-screen features - comes almost three years after the launch of Vista, whose complexity frustrated many home users and turned off business customers.

The success of Windows - which accounts for more than half of Microsoft's profit -  is crucial for chief executive Steve Ballmer to revive the company's image as the world's most important software firm.

"There's not much that gets me more fired up than the chance to start selling and delivering," Ballmer told a packed audience at the Windows 7 launch in New York. "You will be unbelievably impressed."

Early indications are that companies are getting ready to switch to Windows  .

"People like it," said Michael Capone, chief information officer for payroll services firm Automatic Data Processing, pointing out its quick start-up and good user interface.

"There is a line outside my door from people wanting to get into the pilot program," Capone said at a technology conference in Orlando, Florida, on Wednesday.

His company typically waits at least 18 months to begin broad deployment of a new version of Windows , said Capone, but this time he could be more aggressive.

"In the surveys that we've done about half the CIOs (chief information officers) indicated that they would just use Windows 7 on existing PCs as opposed to replace the entire hardware," said Barnicle. "That would be very positive for Microsoft, but maybe not so positive for the PC manufacturers."

A range of new PCs incorporating the software in all shapes and sizes from Hewlett-Packard Co, Dell and others are set to be unveiled on Thursday, in the hope of reigniting consumer spending before the holiday shopping season.

Global PC sales rose 2.3 percent in the third quarter compared with a year ago, according to research firm IDC, after two quarters of declines.

Market-watchers are betting on further recovery of computer sales next year, as the economy improves and businesses replace old machines, but opinion is divided on how strong the impact of Windows 7 will be.

"What's going to be really interesting is whether this spurs a hardware replacement cycle or it's just a Windows replacement cycle," said Barnicle, who estimates that more than 820 million PCs across the world run Windows.

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