In many ways, the Windows 7 launch is shaping up like most other software releases from Microsoft. After extensive testing and a fair bit of marketing, the company is preparing to first ship the operating system out to system vendors, then a release to the general public.
In many other ways, however, the release of Windows 7 looks like being one of the most important in Microsoft's history. Perhaps not since Windows 95 has so much depended on the company getting a Windows update released smoothly and on time.
Though the company still has a stranglehold on the market, new threats to Microsoft's dominance are emerging every day. The walls may still be strong in Redmond, but the wolves are also beginning to surround the company.
First, there's the MacOS. Though Apple has continually hovered around with roughly a tenth of the overall market, the company has become a visible thorn in Microsoft's side.
Apple has excelled in many of the consumer areas Microsoft has failed to penetrate, particularly media players and online media services. Meanwhile, the constant public jabs from Apple's advertising series have begun to sink in with consumers, even driving Microsoft to acknowledge the much-smaller Mac market with its "I'm a PC" ad series.
If Windows 7 flounders on release, those "Get a Mac" ads will ring truer than ever with consumers.
Then on the business front there is the looming threat of Linux. Microsoft has worked to make nice with the open-source community through deals with vendors such as Novell, but the reality is that Linux remains a very real threat to the company's lucrative server branch. And with the list of enterprise Linux backers growing every day, there is less room for error than ever for Microsoft.
Microsoft lost a lot of credibility in the business world with Vista. To help regain the confidence of the enterprise world, both Windows 7 and Server 2008 need to be rolled out smoothly.
Then there's the newest threat: Google's Chrome OS. The recently-unveiled operating system will take aim at the emerging netbook market currently occupied by both Microsoft and Linux.
Though Microsoft will enjoy a significant head start over the 2010 target date for Chrome, a lame-duck netbook port of Windows 7 would only increase interest in Chrome and slow sales while buyers hold out for the Google systems.
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