Microsoft has officially released Windows 7 in what executives believe marks a "pivotal turning point" in the company's history.

Stung by three years of Windows Vista criticism, Microsoft executives from the UK and US were desperate to impress the UK media at a launch event in London yesterday, and were bullish about the new OS's prospects following a nine-month beta project which saw 8 million people test official pre-release versions of the product.

Ashley Highfield, UK managing director for Microsoft's consumer and online propositions, said the Windows development team had taken customer feedback on-board and produced an OS that's "easier, simpler and more fun" than its predecessor.

Most Windows users will hope that its faster and more stable, too, and Leila Martine, director of the Windows consumer division at Microsoft UK, said the company had "heard the message" on application and hardware compatibility - an issue which plagued Windows Vista, particularly during its first few months on sale.

Microsoft has previous promised that the vast majority of software and peripherals that worked with Vista should work with Windows 7, and early reviews of the new operating system suggest that to be the case.

Windows 7 review

Windows 7 PCs

Jeremy Fennell, category director at DSGi, which owns PC World and Currys, said positive early Windows 7 reviews from beta testers were behind unprecedented pre-order sales of Microsoft's latest creation. In the three-week period DSGi offered a discounted pre-order promotion for Windows 7, the retailer sold more copies of the new OS than it did copies of Windows Vista in its first year on sale.

"We haven't needed Microsoft to hype the product, journalists and customers have done it for us," he said.

Despite strong demand for Windows 7, DSGi has launched a number of promotions to tempt people into its stores. The high-street retailer has knocked £150 off the RRP of a number of Toshiba and Dell laptops, and offering a further £100 to customers for trading in their old PC for a brand-new Windows 7 system.

There wasn't much new at yesterday's Windows 7 launch event to those who have been monitoring Windows 7's progress for the past few months, but DSGi said the OS would ultimately be judged by its ability to perform the basics. Fennell said three key Windows 7 features should be enough to convince consumers to upgrade - user experience, better battery life and faster start-up and resume times.

However, one new development to emerge at the event was a partnership between Sky and Microsoft that sees Sky Player being integrated into Windows 7 via Media Center.

Sky Player is an online video tool allowing UK web users to watch live and pre-recorded TV on-demand, and the service will be available via Windows Media Center's snazzy interface in Windows 7. Sky executives also revealed that the service will launch on the Xbox 360 on October 27.

See also:

Windows 7 breaks retail records

Windows 7 already shipping in the UK

How to optimise Windows 7