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Microsoft's Hard Slog in Hardware

Here's how Windows 7, which arrives Thursday, will figure in the hardware landscape.



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had two-and-a-half years to solve the problems with Windows Vista and introduce an improved operating system.

So here's how Windows 7, which arrives Thursday, will figure in the hardware landscape.

Bulls are looking for the newest computer software systems to spark multiple product buying cycles as people move to upgrade from Vista, or more likely from Windows XP machines. But the arrival of a new OS doesn't necessarily mean sweeping changes in equipment.

Here's how Windows 7 probably will play among key market segments.

Businesses -- Companies typically don't plan wide-scale OS upgrades until after the bugs have been worked out. Buying probably won't start until after the first service pack arrives with all the necessary security patches and after-the-fact fixes. This is effectively the second version of the software and typically gets released about a year after the first version arrives.

Consumers -- This is the big opportunity for Windows 7. If people can ignore rising unemployment and stop squirreling away cash, they may start buying new netbooks, notebooks and desktops. There's plenty of incentive: new software, sleeker devices, lower prices -- the stage is set for a healthy upgrade cycle. But Windows 7 may not be a popular software upgrade for owners of old machines. As some high-profile reviews of Windows 7 suggest, upgrades of older Windows XP machines are complicated and likely to be difficult enough to scare many people away.

Wireless -- Gone, baby, gone. By next year, when Windows Mobile 7 is ready, the mobile market will be very crowded, and Microsoft will have an even smaller share of the business than it does now.

Let's count the mobile operating system challengers:

Apple's iPhone OS

No. 1 Nokia's Symbian and new Maemo platform

Research In Motion's utilitarian BlackBerry system

Palm's WebOS entry

Google's Android, which Gartner picked to be the No. 2 OS in 2012.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is certainly eager to see Windows 7 erase our memories of Vista.

"Windows 7 is the best PC operating system we have ever built," Ballmer said in a press release last month.

But outside the crop of new netbooks and notebooks that end up under the Christmas tree, Windows 7 may have a limited immediate impact.

Three more years until Windows 8?

Next: Windows 7 Winners and Losers