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Windows 7 lessons - the must know before you buy

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Today's launch of Windows 7 by Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer marks the end of a 12-month product turn around - one of Microsoft's fastest.

But what price did Microsoft pay to build Windows 7 so quickly? And what should we expect from Microsoft, and the Linux competition, as the company tries to entice people into paying for this latest refresh of the Windows franchise?

Here's what you should know.

The technology was baked long ago

Testers who thought their input on new features mattered in Windows 7 were in for a big disappointment. Microsoft's fast-tracked Windows 7 to avoid a repetition of the delays that afflicted Windows Vista.

The client was unveiled just a year back and there was just a single beta, not the customary two. Features demonstrated at Microsoft's Professional Developers' Conference (PDC) last October and the talking points debated have not changed between then and now: improved performance and start-up times compared to Windows Vista and a simpler interface harking back to Windows 1.0, 95 and XP. Windows 7 does employ Windows Vista's underlying features, such as the Aero interface and its security, meaning much of the heavy lifting had already been done.

Such was the breakneck pace, early testers grew alarmed that Microsoft was railroading development on various builds after January's public beta and - in doing so - not gathering sufficient technical feedback and leaving bugs unfixed. Microsoft smacked down concerned testers saying it was gathering sufficient information from the public beta.

Microsoft's initial goal was for Windows 7 in 2010, conforming to the company's usual three-year Windows client delivery cycle. But immediately after unveiling Windows 7 at PDC last November, Microsoft told partners to expect its latest operating system in Christmas 2009. Release code was shipped in May, four months after the beta test.

The measure of whether Microsoft or the testers is right will surely come when the hard work starts of building on Windows 8 on top of Windows 7.

Virtually speaking, you get Windows XP

Can't let go of your old Windows XP applications? There's a virtualized operating system environment for that. With features largely set by last October and talked about, the only genuine surprise was Windows XP Mode, which emerged later this year.

The system uses Microsoft's desktop virtualization and lets you run Windows XP applications inside the Windows 7 desktop.

But Microsoft doesn't want you to think you can use Window XP Mode to doge the upgrade to Windows 7. It told us that ISVs and end users will only get a Windows XP "experience" when running their Windows XP applications in Windows XP Mode. To experience the full Windows 7 operating system, applications should run natively. And that means conforming to the traditional path of upgrading, testing, and certifying against the latest version of Windows - in this case, Windows 7.

Get ready to be upsold

Microsoft really wants you to buy Windows 7 Home Premium. The idea is to grow market share by getting people that dodged Windows Vista to leave Windows XP. With the technology done since at least since last October, the real action has been in pricing and packaging. As with new versions of Windows past, Microsoft shook up its SKUs, announcing - appropriately - seven packages.

Pricing is largely unchanged, except for Windows 7 Home Premium, which has been cut by almost 10 per cent on an upgrade and 20 per cent for a new copy in regular shopping. As part of a series of summer special offers, Microsoft then cut the price by 75 per cent for those who pre-ordered in a block of three dates ahead of Thursday's launch. Students could get more off Windows 7 with a later offer.

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