Countdown to Windows 7

Windows 7

“What a long, strange trip it’s been.”

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) Windows 7 developers may be humming that famous refrain to the Grateful Dead’s “Truckin” Thursday as the company prepares to hold the official launch of the new operating system software.

Windows 7’s long strange trip began nearly three years ago with the launch of Windows Vista — a delayed release that was poorly received by both consumers and corporations alike.

“Vista was so roundly disparaged that it really has been ‘a long strange trip,'” Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, told

Almost as soon as Vista was released, the complaints reached a roar. Vista lacked application and device driver support, was a memory and CPU hog, and just generally disappointed both consumers and IT users.

So Microsoft shuffled management and almost immediately began work on Vista’s replacement, now known as Windows 7. A preview version was given out to a select group of developers this time last year at Microsoft’s Professional Developers Conference.

The official beta test of Windows 7 began in late January, and proceeded through all the steps to reach “release to manufacturing” — the final step before it began going out to users and PC OEMs — by late July.

In late June, Microsoft and its partners began pre-sales and upgrade guarantee programs, which provided a glimpse of just how popular Windows 7 is likely to become when stores open Thursday morning.

As a matter of fact, pre-sales of Windows 7 have been so strong, that the UK division of e-tailer Wednesday told the UK’s Telegraph that it has surpassed pre-sales of the previous record holder — “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”

A PC, notebook and netbook bundle

Wednesday, Best Buy and HP announced a deal that will provide a customer with three PCs — a laptop, a desktop PC with a monitor, and a netbook — along with a wireless router, all set up by the retailer’s Geek Squad, for $1,199, according to Microsoft’s Windows 7 Team Blog.

How well will Windows 7 do?

“Once we get through the next few weeks, we’ll have a better idea of how Windows 7 is going to do,” Stephen Baker, vice president industry analysis for NPD Techworld, told

His own prediction?

“We’ll see a Windows 7-based, holiday-based, and price-based jump” in PC sales, Baker said. Further out? “It’s going to be about ‘Did the refresh cycle speed up?'”

Recent reports from both technology and financial analysts seem to point to a definitely positive answer to Baker’s question.

While many consumers impatiently wait for the doors to open at their favorite computer retailer or e-tailer, corporate IT decision makers are also part of the apparent pent up demand for a replacement for Vista and its predecessor Windows XP.

For instance, recently, multiple surveys of IT shops found that many IT shops may not wait the typical year or more before deploying the new operating system.

Additionally, some 88 percent of PCs in corporate environments right now are already capable of running Windows 7, another survey found last week.

Launch parties, pre-sales, and free, or nearly free, upgrades for users who bought new PCs in the run up to Thursday’s official debut, have helped to prime the pump. That follows on the heels of strong back-to-school sales of PCs, NPD’s Baker said.

He’s not alone.

“The Amazon numbers are telling,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst for the Enderle Group, told Microsoft and its OEM partners as well as both retailers and e-tailers are about to launch a major push to sell the new system and new PCs to run it on.

“The primary demand generation hasn’t even hit yet,” Enderle said. “There’s an unprecedented amount of new hardware coming into the market.”

OEMs have been pre-announcing new PCs, laptops, and netbooks in the past few weeks with more coming Thursday.

“To their credit, Microsoft got its house in order and took the best parts of Vista and created a product that Vista should have been in the first place,” Pund-IT’s King said.

The official Windows 7 launch party will be available via Webcast beginning at 8 a.m. Pacific or 11 a.m. Eastern on Thursday, October 22.

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