Microsoft (Quote) CEO Steve Ballmer rang in a new Vista at Nasdaq headquarters here today, announcing the shipment of the company's updated operating system and the first new significant release since Windows XP in August 2001.
"This is the biggest launch in our company's history by far," said Ballmer, who acknowledged delays in launching the new product suite in an aside. "It's an exciting thing to finally be here -- and that's all I'll say about the past."
Ballmer ticked off the principles underpinning the company's design philosophy for the new product suite as simplifying collaboration; improving information retrieval; managing content; and reducing IT costs while improving security.
"Those are the design pillars that we had in mind from a business customer perspective as we developed Vista," he said.
Among the most obvious feature enhancements can be found in search, where users can enter terms in the "Programs" pane, which they can launch by pressing the Windows icon key on their keyboards.
The search includes all documents to which users have access on network drives and local clients. The results appear in a new window as a "live preview" –- an icon of the first page of each document for easy identification.
The new operating system also includes a new desktop interface and navigation features, named Aero, that let users flip through open applications as if they were flipping through a Rolodex.
The interface of the toolbars also incorporates live preview, allowing users to preview style changes before they apply them, or the front page of documents they may want to import.
Another key element of the new OS is enhanced security features.
Ballmer said that SharePoint Server 2007 will allow users to access data in structured databases on a corporate intranet, such as an ERP (define) system, work with it in Office, and then return the changed data to the original content repository.
Diane Prescott, technical product manager for Exchange, also demonstrated new voice capabilities of Exchange, which can be accessed by phone and can read e-mail messages and take verbal instructions from the user.
With the release of Vista, Ballmer can only hope it opens new horizons for other Microsoft products just launched or coming up.
For Microsoft, this is more than just a monkey off its back.
The release of Vista rests on the foundation of its People Ready strategy, as well as the success of some 30 other applications the company will launch beginning today through to the middle of next year.
In particular, Vista helps support collaboration tools embedded in Office 2007, SharePoint Server 2007 and Exchange Server 2007.
Ballmer said that the company will introduce consumer versions of Vista and Office 2007 at the end of January 2007.
He made no mention, however, of other Microsoft initiatives. For instance, there was nothing about Live, Gartner analyst Mark Gilbert.
PC manufacturers such as Lenovo and Dell, as well as retailers, can also breathe easier, as they hope that the new set of features stimulate moribund demand for new equipment.