Pic courtesy of robokow on Flickr

It’s a big day for Microsoft today. If memory serves, Thursdays are cheesecake day in the canteen at Thames Valley Park. Always exciting.

Oh, yes, it’s also launch day for Windows 7, Microsoft’s latest PC operating system. It’s already kicked off over in Australia and will be following the sun around the planet as the day goes on…no doubt culminating in a big bash over at MS HQ in Redmond.

Launches aren’t quite what they used to be. When Microsoft launches Windows 95, it bought every copy of The Times on launch day so people could get their daily newspaper for nothing (not that it was appreciated by everyone). And this when newspaper circulations were still healthy and newspapers weren’t given away each and every day.

They also paid the Rolling Stones millions of dollars to use the band’s song ‘Start Me Up’ in the launch advertisement and at events around the world. The Stones must’ve been delighted because, let’s face it, Start Me Up is a ropey old tune. I recently tried to make similar money by releasing a song called Snow Leopard to the tune of Moon River. Didn’t work.

But back in 1995, for most people (including the press) launch day was the first time they’d seen or got to use the new operating system. These days the media has been using and reviewing Windows 7 for months and months. By most accounts, it’s pretty decent. It needs to be. Despite denials from Microsoft and its evidence to the contrary, most people regarded Windows Vista as a flop, commercially and functionally. So 7 just needs to work. But it seems to have lots of the functions you’d expect, though I’m not sure there are that many surprises.

But maybe operating systems have lost the ability to surprise and delight? Windows 95 was a significant step forward in how most people interacted with their computer. Most developments since have seemed a bit incremental (save stuff like touchscreens). And that, I reckon, is the way it should be. It’s about what you can do with the applications that sit on top of an operating system, not the OS itself. Unless you’re a real geek that is. After all, not many (normal) people worry about the OS that sits on their mobile phone.

And as Steve Ballmer pointed out in recent interviews in the UK, Microsoft’s market share is overwhelming…something like 96% of PCs run on Windows…so where’s the competition? As he also pointed out in the same interviews, Apple has effectively priced itself out of the mainstream PC market. So if you’re spending less than a grand on a laptop, who else are you going to go with?

In commercial terms, therefore, I reckon Windows 7 will be a huge success (as long as anyone expecting a copy through the post actually receives it at some point). Plenty of people and business that didn’t bother with Vista will upgrade from XP pretty much immediately, and for those that did move to Vista, the new OS looks like a decent step forward and they’ll likely move eventually. And of course, pretty much any new PC bought from today will be installed with 7…and if there’s a version that’ll work on a netbook it should be job done.

But I also think that this’ll be the last ‘big launch’ for a Microsoft OS that we’ll see. End of an era.