Windows 95 Birthday, Windows Phone 7 Tools Marked Microsoft Week

Microsoft's week involved the 15th anniversary of Windows 95's official release, announcements about Windows Phone 7 and a Windows 7 study.

Aug. 24 marked the 15th anniversary of Windows 95's official release. Microsoft's marketing blitz for the operating system was enormous: The Empire State Building lit up in the company's colors, the $300 million spent on everything from newspaper advertisements to the massive launch event, the Rolling Stones' "Start Me Up" repurposed as a theme song.

Windows 95 established a number of visual and programming themes that would carry through subsequent versions of the operating system: the Start menu, the taskbar and the increasingly baked-in multimedia features. Although the initial release shipped browser-free, Internet Explorer was eventually integrated with the company's Windows 95 Plus! Pack-and the door opened for company's issues with the antitrust brigade.

A lot has changed for Microsoft in the intervening 15 years, and this week offered some key examples of that fact. The world is more mobile and cloud-based, and the emphasis in 2010 is increasingly on smartphones as opposed to desktop-based operating systems.

The final version of Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 developer tools will arrive Sept. 16-yet another sign the company is ramping ever faster toward the release of its next-generation smartphone platform.

"All developers will have equal opportunity to capitalize on the first-mover advantage of having their apps or games ready at launch," Brandon Watson, Microsoft's director of developer experience for Windows Phone 7, wrote in a posting on The Windows Blog. Microsoft has been encouraging both games and application designers to build for the new platform, in hopes of having a sizable app ecosystem.

That update, combined with news that Microsoft will launch its Windows Phone Marketplace in early October, also helps diagram the theme of the company's next three quarters: Just as Autumn 2009 centered on the make-or-break of the Windows 7 launch, this year represents the company's gamble on smartphones.

It's a gamble that needs to pay off, of course. Although Windows Mobile 6.5 was intended as a market-share placeholder until Microsoft could bring Windows Phone 7 online, the company's portion of the smartphone market has continued to decline in the face of fierce competition from the likes of the Apple iPhone and Google Android.

An early October launch date for Windows Phone Marketplace suggests that the first Windows Phone 7 devices won't be too far behind. In June, tech blog Engadget quoted Mich Mathews, senior vice president for Microsoft's Central Marketing Group, as saying that Windows Phone 7 will launch in October. That timing would allow the devices into the ecosystem before the holiday shopping crunch truly begins.

On Aug. 26, an analyst with Deutsche Bank estimated that Windows Phone 7's initial marketing push could cost Microsoft upward of $400 million.

"This is make-or-break for them. They need to do whatever it takes to stay in the game," analyst Jonathan Goldberg told TechCrunch Aug. 26. "They don't have to take share from Android or Apple, so long as they can attract enough consumers switching from feature phones."

Goldberg suggested that HTC, Samsung and LG Electronics remain the primary Windows Phone 7 handset manufacturers.

Microsoft's increased focus on the cloud extended to its Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 Service Pack 1, which the company announced is now generally available. The Service Pack follows the June release of the Exchange SP1 beta, which Microsoft claims was downloaded by more than 500,000 Technology Adoption Program customers.

Exchange Server 2010 SP1 is available for download here.

Features include Mobile Management Policies, which allow IT administrators to control about 45 policies for remote devices connected to their network, and an expansion of Outlook Web Access premium support to Apple Safari. For end users, the platform includes Conversation View, which automatically groups message threads, and voice mail preview.

Even with the focus on the cloud and mobile, Microsoft remains bound to its older, desktop OS-centric business model. Although the company promotes Windows 7 as an essential element of the future office, a research note this week from Gartner suggested that upgrading from Windows XP and Windows 2000 could pressure companies' IT budgets.

"Corporate IT departments typically prefer to migrate PC operating systems via hardware attrition, which means bringing in the new OS as they replace hardware through a normal refresh cycle," Charles Smulders, managing vice president at Gartner, wrote in an Aug. 26 statement. "Microsoft will support Windows XP for four more years. With most migrations not starting until the fourth quarter of 2010 at the earliest, and with PC hardware replacement cycles running at four to five years, most organizations will not be able to migrate to Windows 7 through usual planned hardware refresh before support for Windows XP ends."

Gartner has previously suggested that a general lack of XP support from ISVs will start around the end of 2011, with a support "XP danger zone" developing at the end of 2012.

Those timelines could push organizations to accelerate their Windows 7 migration, the research firm wrote in this newest note, but that could come with extra labor and capital costs.

Microsoft has sold more than 175 million Windows 7 licenses since the operating system's October 2009 launch. Many of its visual elements and features look positively space age next to Windows 95.