The Duh Starts Now Weighing In on the Vista Launch 

With the tagline "The Wow Starts Now," it seems like the Windows Vista launch was almost designed to be ridiculed. After all, how could the Vista launch measure up to Microsoft's famous Windows 95 launch.

The answer, of course, is that it can't and analysts are already beginning to criticize Microsoft's Vista launch and marketing efforts. I suppose it all comes down to how you measure such things. In 1995 only a small percentage of people had computers and those who had even heard of the Internet were accessing it via a pokey dial up connection that squealed in your ear if you inadvertently picked up the telephone receiver while you were downloading your email. In other words, Microsoft was able to position Win95 much more broadly back then because moving to Win95 was a monumental improvement for virtually everyone.

However, times have changed. Many people in developed nations own or use PCs and the capabilities of OSs have improved dramatically over the years. The Internet is common and typically accessed via fat broadband pipes. Heck, it's even common for consumers in North America, Asia, and Western Europe to access Internet sites and services via their cell phones.

What else has changed? When Win95 was launched few retail stores sold the OS so long lines at midnight madness launch events gave the system a more exciting send off with more people showing up per store. This year, 39,000 retailers in the United States alone stocked Vista the day it was launched making for shorter lines and shorter waits. And of course, most people who buy Vista retail packages will do so from online retailers such as Amazon.com, which incidentally reported exceptionally high demand for the product. Unfortunately, images of people clicking "Buy Now" in a Web browser don't make for exciting news reports.

But what about compared with the recent video game launches, such as those for the Sony PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii, you say? Those drew strong crowds of people waiting outside of retail stores overnight. Surely Vista was a dud compared to those products. Not at all. The PlayStation 3 and Wii were in very short supply, whereas Microsoft pumped the retail channel full of Vista. It will never be hard to find or purchase Vista; consumers can easily walk into a Best Buy today and purchase the Vista version they want. There was no need to run out into the cold January night when you could order or preorder Vista from the comfort of your couch. Heck, you can even download Vista from Windows Marketplace if you want.

But let's bring a bit of reality back to the equation for those of you who are still worried that Vista is going to chug along with slow sales and disappointing returns. Even in its most conservative public estimates, Microsoft said it expects to sell more than 100 million copies of Vista by the end of 2007 and more than 200 million copies by the end of 2008. Frankly, the numbers will probably be quite a bit better than that considering that more than 200 million PCs will be sold each year.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said that the company expects to sell more than five times as many copies of Vista in the next three months as it did during the same time period after the Win95 launch. "Yes, the market is bigger today," Ballmer admitted, "but part of the reason is the excitement for the product which was five years in the making. To put it simply, Vista was a blockbuster waiting to happen. The fact that few people lined up outside stores the night of the launch says more about the maturity of the market than it does about Vista's performance.