Windows 7 launch creates a buzz in capital area

A computer loaded with Windows 7 software gets a tryout at a Best Buy store in Miami. Microsoft hopes to win back computer users who disliked the Vista system.

The big day was hours away, and Joshua Griffith was taking no chances.

The supervisor of Best Buy’s Geek Squad in Natomas carted the stack of bright lime-green boxes to a wood cabinet on the sales floor, then stowed them under lock and key, safe and sound until today.

Microsoft Windows 7, the computer giant’s newest operating system, launches today and retailers were preparing for a busy day.

“Our customers were telling us that they weren’t buying new computers until Windows 7 came out,” Griffith said. “We’re expecting it to be a mini-Black Friday for computers.”

The optimistic outlook is based on two main factors: First, Windows 7 is receiving widespread critical acceptance as a top-notch operating system; second, it’s not Vista.

The problem-filled Vista operating system frustrated users and was panned by critics for, among other issues, sluggish startup speeds.

With the Windows 7 launch, Microsoft hopes to win back PC users like Tommie Ingram. The Sacramento furniture installer said he didn’t put the much-maligned Vista on any of the three desktop computers and a laptop he owns.

“If you want to make money, you’re going to have to improve,” Ingram said. “If you want my money, you’re going to have to improve.”

Microsoft is listening to such customers, industry watchers say.

“It’s the Vista that should’ve been,” Steve Fox, editorial director of San Francisco-based industry journal PC World, said of Windows 7. “They’ve basically fixed it. … It’s their first simplified release. They’re exchanging flash for practicality. The best operating system is not obtrusive. It should be invisible.”

Blue-shirted employees were gearing up Wednesday at Best Buy on North Freeway Road in Natomas, stowing away not only boxes of software, but dozens of preordered computers loaded with the new operating system that customers can pick up starting today.

“You get a new operating system every four years,” said computer sales associate Westley Warren. “This is a big thing.”

The chief improvements over Vista, say experts, are Windows 7’s usability and a focus on function.

“The core engine is the same (as Vista), but they’ve greatly improved some of the features,” said Milt Hull, president and self-described technical guru of Sacramento PC Users Group.

Hull, who works as a network engineer, said he is particularly pleased with features that make the new system operate faster and give easier access to files, music and applications.

The buzz over Windows 7 as an antidote to Vista could shake loose more sales, said Fox of PC World.

“I think there’s a good bit of pent-up demand from people who want to get new systems,” he said.

Though Fox doesn’t anticipate a lines-around-the-store shopping frenzy, he said a stripped-down version of Windows 7 aboard netbooks could boost sales of the inexpensive, Web-browsing mini-laptop computers.

“I think you’d see a lot of people buying those because it’s a great impulse buy,” Fox said.

At Best Buy, Griffith is hoping the sales match the hype, especially in a retail sector hit hard by the economy.

“It’s exciting. We’re waiting to sell them. It’s like Christmas,” he said.

Joshua Griffith, supervisor of Best Buy’s Geek Squad in Natomas, carts boxes of Microsoft’s Windows 7 operating system to a locked storage area. “Our customers were telling us that they weren’t buying new computers until Windows 7 came out,” Griffith said.