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1/30/2007
11:35 AM
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Microsoft's Sound And Fury

You would think that, for the launch of its much-anticipated Vista operating system, Microsoft could transcend the typical hype session that companies seem to think are the best way to introduce their products. But Microsoft's vaunted Vista launch event was a bigger version of the kind of production that you usually see at trade shows such as CES or the late, lamented Comdex -- a lot of noise, a lot of lights, and a lot of sound and fury, signifying ... well, you know the quote.

You would think that, for the launch of its much-anticipated Vista operating system, Microsoft could transcend the typical hype session that companies seem to think are the best way to introduce their products. But Microsoft's vaunted Vista launch event was a bigger version of the kind of production that you usually see at trade shows such as CES or the late, lamented Comdex -- a lot of noise, a lot of lights, and a lot of sound and fury, signifying ... well, you know the quote.When I received my invitation, I was curious about what an event titled "The 'Wow' Starts Now" might be like. Product launches -- especially products that you've already tested, reviewed, and re-reviewed -- can be either enjoyable or tedious, depending on what the company hopes to accomplish. Have some new info or interviews to offer, or even a review copy that I can test later? Great. Going to provide some pleasant things to eat and drink? Hey, I won't say no. Going to expect me to do a cheerleader routine about a product that I haven't tried out yet? Not likely.

Here's what happened: After braving a half-hour or so of a New York City winter waiting on line to be checked off the attendees' list (OK, New York City cold isn't Minnesota cold, but it can be pretty uncomfortable), I found myself in a pretty typical product introduction party. Well, typical when financed by Microsoft. Well-dressed waiters (probably out-of-work actors) walked around with trays of finger food; amply stocked bars offered a variety of fancy drinks; music was provided by a rather good band called Angels and Airwaves; and if you explored a bit, you even found stations where you could play with the new product.



Music and multimedia at Microsoft's Vista launch in NYC.

Of course, at the heart of the event was the product introduction itself. Accompanied by music, video displays, and a great deal of carefully choreographed lighting effects, the very theatrical presentation was led by Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, who talked about how Microsoft Vista meant your computing would be Easier, Safer, More Entertaining, and Better Connected. A video showed us how Vista helped parents protect kids from computing at the wrong hours and the wrong sites; how it brought a mother and daughter together and got another couple's toddlers to start computing; how it made family members more productive, creative, and happier. Representatives of hardware companies such as Dell and Intel enthused about how great the new operating system was.

Finally, Microsoft introduced one of the families that beta tested the OS to press the virtual button that "launched" Vista. It was a harmless ending to a relatively uninformative hour -- the kids looked like they were having a good time, and I admired the fortitude of the youngest little girl; at that age, all the explosions of light and sound that followed would have had me clutching my mother's skirts in terror.

In the end, the introduction of the consumer version of Vista was all about lifestyle -- the young, healthy, cheerful, secure, middle-class, stable, family-centric kind that reminded me vividly of some of the educational films of the 1950s. Presumably, these are the people who will be buying new computers and will have to be convinced that the unfamiliar operating system is good for them and their families. Those of us who are older, poorer, stranger, or just grouchier will just have to follow along behind.

And perhaps this was the appropriate way to celebrate Vista: a new operating system that builds on its antecedents and adds a lot of razzle-dazzle, but whose real value is probably to be found more behind the scenes. And as we all know, the ultimate success of the Vista operating system will not be found at the launch, but in the reaction of its users over the coming months.

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