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How Apple is stealing the limelight from Microsoft

WHEN Microsoft releases Windows 7 today, it will be closing a troubled chapter in its history. The previous version of its operating system, Windows Vista, has been cut adrift by massive changes in the PC market since its launch in 2007; a resurgent Apple, soaring sales of netbooks that run free alternatives to Windows and a global recession have left Microsoft struggling against a changing tide. Back in April, it reported its first ever drop in software sales. <br /><br />Of course, the fact that Windows Vista was such a terrible product hasn&rsquo;t helped things. It was plagued by problems with privacy, security and performance, and provoked an unusually angry reaction from customers (there&rsquo;s even a 6,000 word Wikipedia Article entitled &lsquo;Criticism of Windows Vista&rsquo;). <br /><br />Microsoft is hoping that it has cracked these issues with Windows 7, and if pre-sales are anything to go by, punters are ready to believe it. The product has become the biggest-grossing pre-order in Amazon&rsquo;s history, netting more than JK Rowling&rsquo;s recent Harry Potter Book. <br /><br />In a desperate bid to ape the kind of buzz that surrounds Apple&rsquo;s legendary product launches, Microsoft is encouraging customers to hold their own launch parties at home. To see how much work the firm has to do before it comes close to the coolness that surrounds Apple, it&rsquo;s worth watching this excruciatingly bad YouTube advert, if you can sit through it that is (http://tinyurl.com/kodptg). <br /><br /><strong>THUNDER THIEF</strong><br />At any rate, Apple is not going to let Microsoft have the limelight to itself. Fresh from its most profitable quarter ever, it has stolen the Windows 7 thunder and launched a new range of iMacs and MacBooks. <br /><br />To be fair, Apple deserves the spotlight. As good as written off just over a decade ago, it has come back from the brink, selling 6.9m iPhones in the three months to the end of September &ndash; the highest quarterly sales of the smartphone ever. <br /><br />And its strategy of selling more Macs on the back of the phenomenally successful iPhone is also paying off. In the last quarter, it shipped 2.6m Macs &ndash; a 21 per cent increase in volume that boosted computer revenue by 17 per cent. It is now the world&rsquo;s fourth biggest maker of PCs. <br /><br />That Apple has just had its best quarter ever in the midst of a global slump is testament to its ability to make products that consumers will splash out on &ndash; even when times are hard. At the start of the downturn, it was unclear whether punters would still be willing to pay the so-called &ldquo;Apple Tax&rdquo;, but the company has proven its doubters wrong. Recession? What Recession? david.crow@cityam.com