Microsoft on Thursday formally released Windows 7, its latest in a long line of computer operating systems that are meant to bridge the gap between man and personal computing machine.
Windows 7 promises a streamlined interface, support for touch screens, and security features that, while robust, don't interfere with users' day-to-day interactions with their computers, the software maker claims.
Retailers girded for the debut of the new OS--the first since Redmond introduced Windows Vista in January 2007.
Best Buy is offering free shipping on Windows 7 computers, while Web merchant Amazon pledged to deliver the product on "launch day" for a nominal fee. In a harbinger of its potential popularity, Windows 7 pre-sales were the top seller in Amazon's software category as of early Thursday.
The OS is available in 32-bit and 64-bit editions and pre-sales of both were holding up well. Microsoft is hosting a Web site, dubbed the Windows 7 Compatibility Center, that lists third-party hardware and software products that have been certified as compatible with Windows 7.
Microsoft needs Windows 7 to be a hit, given that the company's software sales have experienced sharp declines in recent quarters. Windows sales were off 13% in Redmond's last fiscal year.
Consumer scrutiny of Windows has been fueled by the fact that Vista was found lacking by numerous critics. Common gripes pointed to its horsepower requirements, incompatibility with older systems, and its disruptive security measures.
Microsoft claims Windows' major problems have been fixed with Windows 7, which is said to be significantly more user friendly than its predecessor Vista. Microsoft also has introduced new tools designed to ensure customers can run Windows 7 on their PCs, laptops, and mobile devices.
The full version of Windows 7 Professional is $299, with upgrades going for $199. Windows 7 Ultimate is priced at $319, with the upgrade version at $219. The full version of Windows 7 Home Premium is priced at $199, with an upgrade from Vista or XP costing $119.