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What if you had a launch party and nobody came?

MS listens to users, cos no one is listening to MS

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Comment If there's one standout feature about Microsoft's launch of Windows 7 this week, it's the abundance of other compelling tech news.

It used to be that the PC world stood still when a new Microsoft operating system was launched, literally and figuratively.

People really did queue around the block for Windows 95 - or at least were prepared to believe that other people did - and the software giant's financial might meant it could sponsor the print run of The Times for a day. And remember, this was before the shift to online advertising left national newspaper publishers dancing for pennies just to keep the presses running.

Yet this week, as Microsoft has geared up for the launch of what everyone thinks is a make or break release in Windows 7, the event itself has been in danger of being swept away by a tide of spoilers.

IBM chose to announce a tie-up with Canonical to punt an Ubuntu and Lotus cloud offering that might appear, maybe sometime next year. Who knows. They were quite explicit that they were aiming to steal Microsoft's thunder.

Red Hat chose yesterday to meet journalists and declared "Microsoft was untouchable - until recently". Salesforce.com's Marc Benioff is making appearances all over London, including one at a Google conference on cloud computing.

Meanwhile the tide of Fedora, Mozilla and Open Office betas continues unabated.

However, it was Apple's product splurge last night that must have really hurt. When Microsoft was putting the final touches to Windows 98, Apple was recovering from a series of disastrous CEOs, and many saw its continued existence as nothing else than a piece of Microsoft corporate welfare, designed to deflect any interest from the DoJ.

Twelve years on, and how does it repay its onetime saviour? By directing a stream of piss all over Microsoft's big day.

You can look at it all as evidence that Microsoft has lost its edge and set itself on "a long and winding course toward irrelevance" as one New York Times hack has. Or you can go all out and view Apple's actions as a declaration of war on the very PC industry itself.

What it certainly shows is that no one is scared of Microsoft anymore, and Steve Ballmer and the rest of Remond can't dictate the agenda the way he used to.

The irony is that Microsoft has given users months to get used to the product, and while its marketing strategy is questionable - renting Family Guy, staging Tupperware parties and the like - the responses we've seen so far have been, in the main, favourable.

It's been a truism to say Windows 7 is the last big operating system launch before all our software ends up on a server parked somewhere in Iceland.

Looking at the way Microsoft's rivals have been mooning its parade, it's safe to say the last big traditional operating system launch was actually for... Vista. And that is why Microsoft is paying the price now. ®

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