StatCounter, a top market analytics firm, recently announced that Microsoft's Windows 7 had attained a milestone accomplishment, surpassing Windows XP to become the most used operating system in the world.
While "market gurus" and financial pen pushers tend to dwell on Microsoft recent misses, they tend to miss that in the operating systems business, the company is relishing the greatest sales success in its history. Selling faster than any other version of Windows -- or any other operating system in the history of the world, for that matter -- Windows 7 soared to a 40.21 percent (appr.) installation rate in under 2 years, bumping the much beloved Windows XP to second place (38.64 percent).
Windows 7's success was bred of one of the company's most maligned efforts to date, Windows Vista. Vista, launched in late 2006, tried unsuccessfully to replace the popular five-year -old XP. Many of its biggest problems were due to issues outside Microsoft's control -- including glitchy support peripheral driver support from its hardware partners. Other issues -- like the bloated memory and processes footprint -- were certainly pinned solely on Microsoft.
But for the shortcomings of Vista, it debuted many of the features including the gaudy Aero graphical interface, which would reinvent Windows. They just needed a polished package.
That package arrived with Windows 7. The biggest story of this operating system came well before launch, with Microsoft giving away millions of free beta copies in the largest OS beta test in world history. The builds had their issues and could be buggy at times -- but customers understood this -- after all, they were using a test product. And the innovative approach yielded great rewards. Microsoft caught over 2,000 bugs during the test cycle and used its telemetrics to drastically slash the processor and memory footprint to the point where the new OS could be run on a lowly Pentium II.
Microsoft also benefited from the learning experience of Vista, warning hardware partners not to dare pull a Vista, when it came to driver support. The crackdown paid off. By launch time it was relatively rare to find a incompatible peripheral.
The new face of Windows launched Oct. 22, 2009, to much excitement. Lean and stable in performance, familiar yet more stylish graphically, Windows 7 managed to pass its predecessor in nine months (July 2010). It sold 240 million licenses in its first year, according to market research firm Gartner.
Today it has sold 450 million licenses. And that total is expected to rise to 635 million by the year's end, with 94 percent of new PCs currently shipping with Windows 7.
Looking ahead Microsoft is eyeing a fall launch for Windows 8. The new operating system has a tough act to follow, given the mega-success of Windows 7. But Microsoft -- about to enter its 37th year -- continues to show it has some tricks up its sleeve. With Windows 8 it will add support for ARM architectures CPUs, opening the gates to a host of power-savvy system-on-a-chip driven designs.
And Windows 8 will also add the vibrant Metro UI found on Microsoft Windows Phone line. Developers will be able to create their own chic animated Metro UI tiles, bringing a new level of touch-friendly and visually striking interaction to end users.
And with its market of over 1 billion Windows PCs at stake, Microsoft isn't about to take any chances with stability or performance. It recently launched a public preview test build to work out the various bugs in the trial build. And it has cut the memory footprint and number of processes from the already lean Windows 7, despite running built-in antimalware protection and Metro UI for the first time.
Whether Windows 8 turns out to be a hit or miss in sales, Microsoft can take comfort in what it learned in the Vista-Win7 arc -- that even a "failed" effort can breed a new market leader. But for now the story is Windows 7, and it seems only appropriate to conclude by honoring Windows 7's accomplishment with a quote from a familiar Windows video game character -- "Hail to the king, baby!"