Microsoft rolled out Windows Vista at retailers in 70 countries Tuesday, delivering a new computer operating system that aims to better manage the explosion of digital media and
protect users from the dangers of the Internet.
The world's biggest software maker marked the launch of its first all-new Windows operating system in five years with a marketing blitz, including commercials featuring basketball star Lebron James and appearances by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates on morning and late-night chat shows.
Windows runs on more than 95% of the world's computers, and the long-delayed new version is the first major release of a new Microsoft operating system since it introduced Windows XP in 2001.
Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft called Vista the most important release of its dominant operating system since Windows 95 more than a decade ago, when shoppers waited for hours to be among the first to run the new software.
Consumer fanfare of that magnitude seems unlikely since Vista is not the dramatic leap in technology of past releases, but the new Windows could ultimately be just as successful. "Vista will be successful. It's been a long time since Microsoft introduced a new operating system. There are a lot of nice features that people will like," said Morningstar analyst Toan Tran.
The most obvious change is the new look. Vista's "Aero" interface uses 3-D graphics to create translucent windows that appear to float above the background screen. Other changes are more subtle like improved security, search bars to help users find information easier and a new multimedia platform for digital video, music and pictures.
Apple calls Vista a copycat version of its Mac OS X Tiger operating system that introduced many of those new features. The iPod maker plans to introduce a new operating system of its own later this year.
The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg, in his review of Vista, called it a "worthy, but largely unexciting, product."
In the first year of its release, Vista, which required a $6 billion investment from Microsoft, will be installed on more than 100 million PCs worldwide, according to research reports.
But because only about 15% of existing computers have memory and graphics cards powerful enough to run premium versions of Vista, most users will have to buy a whole new computer if they want to upgrade. "There is a pent-up set of consumers who are going to get new PCs,"
Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer said in an interview on Monday. "We will see an uptick (in PC sales). Sales will be stronger than they otherwise would have been."
To accompany the launch, events are planned near New York's Times Square and U.S. retailers will hold midnight sales across the country.
The company's chairman and most recognizable face, Bill Gates, hit the talk show circuit to hype the launch, sitting down for interviews on NBC's "Today" show and Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."