Hundreds of millions of customers run the Windows XP client today, but enterprise adoption and retail sales have lagged. Microsoft's solution to that problem is a multipronged advertising blitz centered on the XP updates the company has released since the OS's debut 3 years ago. Microsoft wants you to know that if you haven't looked at XP lately, you might be surprised by how much the product has improved.
The ad blitz will begin in June with the release of XP Service Pack 2 (SP2), one of the largest and most important updates Microsoft has ever created for any of its products. Once seen as a simple collection of bug and security fixes, XP SP2 took on new importance last summer after various high-profile virus and worm attacks. In response to those attacks, Microsoft moved the product into its main build lab and grafted to XP a slew of security-oriented updates that were originally envisioned for Longhorn, the next major Windows release.
Since October 2001, Microsoft has also been busy with other XP updates. The company has released two low-priced Microsoft Plus! packs, one designed for digital media; one major Windows Media Player (WMP) release, with a second to follow this summer; a major new release of Windows Movie Maker; three Fun Packs that extend XP's digital-media experience with new capabilities, animations, graphics, and sounds; new applications such as Microsoft Windows Journal Viewer; and various Microsoft PowerToys, screensavers, and other add-ons.
The company has also shipped several major new XP editions since 2001, including XP Media Center Edition (XP MCE) in two versions, with a third due in late 2004; XP Tablet PC Edition, with a second version due in June; and XP 64-bit Edition for Itanium systems, in two versions. Later this year, Microsoft will ship XP 64-Bit Edition for 64-Bit Extended Systems, which is designed for AMD Athlon and Opteron systems and Intel x86 64-bit systems.
Unlike the Macintosh OS updates from Apple Computer, Microsoft's sole remaining commercial competitor in the desktop space, most of the XP updates have been free or inexpensive. Most of the software listed above is free or ships with new PCs, except for the Plus! packs, which cost roughly $20 each.
Microsoft has planned more updates for late 2004, and after XP SP2 is in the can, the company will begin a marketing campaign that's designed to educate end users and IT administrators about the importance of installing XP SP2. An update to the Windows patch-management infrastructure will make it easier for customers to install security updates. Starting with XP SP2, for example, Windows Update will automatically aggregate critical updates to make them easier to download, and the system will push Automatic Updates more aggressively, advising users to not only let XP download those updates automatically but install them as well.
Microsoft representatives I've spoken with have been reluctant to discuss details of the XP advertising blitz. But the campaign is expected to include refreshed XP retail boxes that will include the slogan "Windows XP Service Pack 2 with Advanced Security Technologies;" retail point-of-sale, print, TV, and Web advertising; and, by late 2004, a second round of promotions based on the XP Reloaded theme. XP Reloaded, which was once to have included an interim XP version codenamed Oasis, will now concentrate on the many consumer-related updates Microsoft plans to ship in the second half of 2004, I'm told, although those plans are constantly being evaluated. The XP Reloaded promotions will coincide with the releases of XP MCE 2005 (code-named Symphony), Media Center Extender devices, Portable Media Center devices, and the next WMP version.