Microsoft was in a bad state in summer 2009, just as its teams were putting the finishing touches on Windows 7. The global recession had battered the company's revenues. Windows Vista, the company's previous operating system, seemed stigmatized in the wake of bad reviews and user complaints. If Windows 7 died in the marketplace, chatter would start that Microsoft's best days were far behind.
Microsoft's engineers worked to make Windows 7 less of a processor hog, with programming tweaks such as a memory-management system that devoted resources only to open windows. They also included Windows XP Mode for Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate editions, allowing "last mile" compatibility for any XP applications incapable of otherwise running on the new operating system.
Some new features seemed tailor-made for IT pros. These included OpenSearch-based Federated Search, for exploring local and network drives in addition to intranet storage. In place of Vista's constant security prompts--which drove many a user cheerfully insane--Windows 7 offered User Account Control Settings that could be adjusted for Never Notify, Always Notify and two in-between options.
On the security side, Windows 7 included AppLocker, which could be used for locking down certain applications on an administrator level. An improved BitLocker gave users more control over encrypting their hard drives, and BitLocker to Go did something similar for external hard drives and USB keys.
Windows 7 also included some shiny user-interface elements, including Windows Taskbar--which reduced programs to thumbnail previews, with easy access to shortened menus--and a redesigned Start button. According to analytics firm Net Applications, Windows 7 currently occupies some 17.10 percent of the operating-system market, behind Windows XP at 60.03 percent and ahead of Windows Vista at 13.35 percent.
Microsoft claims more than 240 million Windows 7 licenses have sold to date. Those sales seem good enough to solidify the company's grip on the operating-system market, even as it faces a substantial challenge--from the underdog position--of penetrating the smartphone operating-system market with its new Windows Phone 7.
Rumors are already swirling about possible features in Windows 8.
For more, read the eWeek article Windows 7 One Year Later: Win for Microsoft.