SEATTLE -- Microsoft Corp. finally got its chance to reboot its reputation Thursday, launching a new edition of Windows that it hopes will encourage more PC buyers to get back into stores.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer celebrated the arrival of Windows 7 in New York with a few hundred people who had helped test early versions of the software that runs PCs. One of them, technology consultant, Jonathan Kay, flew from Toronto to attend.
"Windows 7 will redeem Windows," said Kay, 27.
Some retailers had opened at midnight to give customers an early shot at buying a new PC or a disc that they could use to put Windows 7 on their existing computers. Such upgrade discs start at $120.
Among the stores was a Fry's Electronics in Renton, Wash., several miles south of Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond. Mike Naramor, 55, who runs a consulting business called My Computer Guy, was one of about 50 people who were waiting outside when Fry's opened.
"We're geeks, that's what geeks do," he said. "This is our excitement."
Naramor, who also had bought copies of the last two operating systems, XP and Vista, the nights they were released, planned to go home and install Windows 7 right away.
"Vista took me about 72 hours," he said. "I expect this to take me 20 minutes."
Microsoft is also going to try running its own retail stores, which has been enormously successful for Apple Inc. Hundreds of people lined up Thursday to attend the opening of the first store, in Scottsdale, Ariz., where Microsoft was giving away gift certificates and other goodies.
People cheered as a giant white curtain dropped from the front of the store, revealing an airy space lined with large screens showing scenes from video games. Dozens of employees jumped and high-fived customers as they ran in the store.
Kaelin Jacobson, a 20-year-old Web programmer, said he came to give Microsoft "one last shot," adding that he's had a lot of problems with Vista. Jacobson, who was carrying an Apple laptop, said he has to use Windows for his job and that Microsoft could find it hard to match Apple's sleek and popular stores.
Microsoft hopes people like Windows 7 much more than Vista, which was slow and didn't work well with existing programs and devices. Microsoft fixed many of Vista's flaws, but it was too late to repair perceptions. Many businesses avoided Vista altogether, preferring to keep using Windows XP, an operating system that is now 8 years old.
Windows 7 promises to boot up faster and reduce the clicks needed to get common tasks done. Microsoft has cut some redundant ways to start programs and added flourishes that can help users keep track of their open windows. It promises to put computers into sleep mode and wake them faster, too.
Windows 7 is also meant to be "quieter" - with fewer pop-up boxes, notifications, warnings and "are you sure ..." messages. Instead, many of those messages get stashed in a single place for the user to address when it's convenient.
While the recession has led businesses to delay spending on PCs and other technologies, computer makers have said they expect that to begin to change in 2010. However, in a recent interview, Microsoft's Ballmer acknowledged that companies figure to remain careful. Information-technology budgets, he said, "aren't going to rise just because we shipped a new (operating system)."
With consumers, it may be the same story.
To coincide with the Windows 7 launch, computer makers and retailers such as Best Buy Inc. are cutting prices for PCs to try to goose holiday-season sales. But analysts at Gartner Inc. aren't expecting to see a spike in consumer sales. Last year was the worst in about six years for the PC industry, and global computer shipments declined through the first half of this year.
At a Best Buy in downtown New York on Thursday, Zhui Lin, a 23-year-old chef, was shopping for a new computer -- but only because his old Windows XP machine had been stolen. Lin said he wasn't even aware Windows 7 had gone on sale.