Microsoft Plans $300 Million Marketing Blitz for Windows XP SP2

Microsoft will spend $300 million marketing its biggest security release ever--Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2). But the big question about XP SP2 isn't its price; the big question is SP2's timing. When, exactly, will Microsoft see fit to release this most disruptive of Windows updates?
  
The marketing campaign, which will be designed to educate and alert users to the security necessities of installing the update, will be far-reaching. The company will provide XP SP2 to customers through the Microsoft Windows Update and Automatic Updates electronic-updating services and will offer the standard network and compact downloads from its Web site. Retail stores such as Best Buy and CompUSA will give customers the update for free. Customers who want to get SP2 from Microsoft on CD-ROM will have to pay a small shipping and handling fee, I'm told. And because of the company's licensing agreements with PC makers, Microsoft will ensure that all new PCs that ship after SP2 is released will include the update. 
  
"Ideally, every PC in the store will have SP2 preinstalled," Microsoft Product Manager Tony Goodhew said. "For those computers that ship to retailers without the upgrade, we're working to get the upgrade installed at the time of the sale to the consumer. The customer will be able to wander into a store, buy a machine, and walk out with SP2 installed."
  
Although training costs for enterprises will account for a significant portion of Microsoft's XP SP2 marketing budget, the company will spend most of the money to convince retailers to upgrade in-store PCs, including computers that were sitting on shelves before XP SP2's release. That way, virtually any customer who buys a new computer after SP2's release will get the new code.
  
Microsoft representatives won't corroborate this information yet, but sources have told me that Microsoft will replace retail boxed copies of XP with new versions that include SP2. Those new boxed copies will likely have some kind of graphic on the box to indicate that the software has been updated, I've been told.
  
Meanwhile, Microsoft seems to be buying itself some time to implement these plans. Last week, the company once again delayed the service pack's second release candidate (RC) build, which was originally due last month and will likely ship sometime this week. Like XP SP2 RC1, the RC2 build will be publicly available for free so that customers can test how the changes affect their environments. Although RC2 will install on top of RC1, Microsoft will recommend that users uninstall RC1 before installing RC2.
 
So what's behind all the delays? XP Lead Product Manager Greg Sullivan told me last week that application and Web site compatibility concerns are the biggest problems. SP2's innate security settings will break a lot of applications and services that are used to having unfettered access to the system. Sullivan said that XP SP2 will concentrate on four key areas: helping protect PCs from network-based attacks, enabling more secure email and Instant Messaging (IM), enabling more secure Internet experiences, and providing system-level protection for the base OS. In addition, SP2 will include several new and updated technologies, such as the Microsoft Software Update Services (SUS) 2.0 client, Windows Media Player (WMP) 9 Series, Microsoft DirectX 9.0b, Bluetooth Client 2.0, and a new SmartKey wireless-network setup wizard.

Microsoft will spend $300 million marketing its biggest security release ever, the second service pack for Windows XP. But the big question about Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) isn't the price, it's the timing. When, exactly, will Microsoft see fit to release this most disruptive of Windows updates?

 

The marketing campaign, aimed at educating and alerting users to the security necessities of installing the update, will be far-reaching. The company will provide SP2 to customers via its Windows Update and Automatic Updates electronic-updating services, and will offer the standard network and compact downloads from its Web site. Retail stores such as Best Buy and CompUSA will provide the update to customers for free. Customers wishing to get SP2 on CD from Microsoft will have to pay a small shipping and handling fee, I'm told. And because of its licensing agreements with PC makers, Microsoft will ensure that all new PCs shipping after SP2 is released will include the update.

 

"Ideally, every PC in the store will have SP2 pre-installed," said Microsoft product manager Tony Goodhew. "For those computers that ship to retailers without the upgrade, we're working to get the upgrade installed at the time of the sale to the consumer. The customer will be able to wander into store, buy a machine and walk out with SP2 installed."

 

And though a significant portion of the marketing budget will include training costs for enterprises, most of the money will be spent getting retailers to upgrade in-store PCs to the service pack, including those that have been sitting on shelves previous to the release. That way, virtually any customer buying a new computer after SP2's release will include the new code.

 

Though Microsoft representatives will not corroborate this yet, I've been told by sources that Microsoft will replace retail boxed copies of Windows XP with new versions that include SP2. Those new boxed copies will likely include some form of graphic on the box to indicate that the software has been updated, I was told.

 

Meanwhile, Microsoft seems to be buying itself some time to implement these plans. The second release candidate build of the service pack, originally due last month, was delayed yet again last week and will likely ship sometime this week. Like Windows XP SP2 release candidate 1 (RC1), the RC2 build will be made available publicly for free, so customers can test how the changes affect their environments. Though RC2 will install over RC1, Microsoft will recommend that users uninstall RC1 before installing RC2.

 

What's the reason for all the delays? Microsoft Windows XP lead product manager Greg Sullivan told me last week that application and Web site compatibility issues were the big problems. Because of its innate security settings, SP2 will break a lot of applications and services that are used to having unfettered access to the system. Sullivan said the service pack would focus on four key areas; Helping protect PCs from network-based attacks, enabling more secure Email and instant messaging, enabling more secure Internet experiences, and providing system-level protection for the base operating system. Additionally, SP2 includes a number of new and updated technologies, including Software Update Services 2.0 client, Windows Media Player 9 Series, DirectX 9.0b, Bluetooth Client 2.0, and a new "SmartKey" wireless network setup wizard.

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