Microsoft's Big Week: Showing Off Office 2010, Windows 7 at Worldwide Partner Conference

Microsoft used its Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans to show off its newest products and assume a more aggressive public stance against Apple, Google and other rivals. In addition to the upcoming Windows 7, its new operating system, Microsoft also demonstrated Microsoft Office 2010, Windows Server 2008, Windows Mobile 6.5 and its public cloud-computing platform, Azure.

Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference, running in New Orleans from July 13-16, saw the company demonstrating a wide swath of its upcoming products, including Office 2010, Windows 7, Silverlight 3, Windows Server 2008 and Windows Mobile 6.5, as the company seeks to regain and retain market share against its high-profile rivals.

The company also finds itself faced with convincing its partners and customers to upgrade and refresh their IT infrastructure during a period of economic turbulence. On Oct. 22, Microsoft plans on rolling out Windows 7, the newest version of its operating system, which it hopes will be a worldwide hit. Success for Windows 7 would counteract the negative feelings that many users and businesses have for Vista.

Publicly, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer suggested during a Q&A session following his July 14 keynote speech that an industry-wide tech refresh, vital as it is for Microsoft, is inevitable.

"Even if you take the assumption that [the economy] won't turn around for a long period of time, every minute of every day we're building a pent-up demand for IT," Ballmer said.

Ballmer also added that Microsoft would keep its annual R&D spending flat at $9.5 billion next year, despite economic drag. "That is a testament to our belief and optimism about the future. We're going to keep the same old Microsoft approach: tenacious, long-term."

The conference also saw Microsoft taking a more aggressive stance toward its biggest rivals, including Google and Apple. Specifically, Microsoft's newest ad campaign, which compares the relative inexpensiveness of PCs when compared to Macs, and which allegedly provoked an irate phone call by Apple's lawyers to Microsoft's chief operating officer Kevin Turner.

"Two weeks ago we got a call from the Apple legal department saying, 'Hey' - this is a true story - saying, 'Hey, you need to stop running those ads, we lowered our prices,'" Turner said during a July 15 speech at the conference. "I did cartwheels down the hallway. At first I said, 'Is this a joke? Who are you?'"

Turner also vowed that Microsoft would take more competitive stance throughout the balance of 2009, spearheaded in part by new Microsoft retail stores due to open in the fall. In another move seemingly calculated to drive up Steve Jobs's blood pressure, a number of those stores will be located in close geographical proximity to Apple stores.

Apple's share of the U.S. PC market was 7.4 percent in the first quarter of 2009, down from 9 percent in the third quarter of 2008. However, Apple continues to perform strongly thanks to its iPhone and iPod sales.

As it seeks to build momentum around its flagship product lines, Microsoft used the conference as a platform for a number of key announcements:

Microsoft Office 2010: In a sea change from its previous desktop-centric model, Microsoft plans to offer Office 2010 as a free online service to Microsoft Live subscribers. The move seems designed to directly challenge Google Apps and other free cloud-based applications and productivity suites.

The stripped-down versions of OneNote, Excel, Word and PowerPoint will not replicate all the features available in the full versions, which Microsoft plans on offering (for a price) as both a hosted subscription service and an on-premises application. Microsoft announced during the conference that Office 2010, along with SharePoint Server 2010, Visio 2010 and Project 2010, had reached the technical preview engineering milestone; the beta release will follow at an as-yet-unannounced point.

In another sign of Microsoft's embracing the Web, Office 2010 will be specifically designed to be more accessible through smartphones, allowing users to access documents through their mobile browser and make certain lightweight edits.