WinInfo Short Takes: Windows XP Launch Special Edition

XP Midnight Madness Neither Midnight Nor Madness
My disappointment with the XP launch began with the so-called Midnight Madness events in or around a Gateway Store and CompUSA near Columbus Circle in Manhattan. I'm sure we're all familiar with the midnight-madness concept: The store opens at midnight on the day the product goes on sale, crowds wait impatiently, and video crews film the mayhem. Well, that didn't happen with the XP launch. Microsoft sent out invitations to the Gateway event, featuring CEO Ted Waite, for an 11:00 P.M. start the night before the launch. But the event started at 9:00 P.M., and Gateway's public relations people were understandably upset about the snafu. Meanwhile, across the street at CompUSA, Microsoft employees doled out free XP gifts, but they did so at 9:00 P.M., not midnight. The crowds of people who showed up at midnight were very disappointed to discover that all the Microsoft freebies--and most of CompUSA's limited special deals--had been snapped up much earlier. Boo!

Gates Bores Even Himself, Leaves Keynote
Maybe Regis Philbin should give Microsoft's keynotes. If you have any doubt that Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates is a lousy public speaker, try to find a video clip of him and keynote guest Regis Philbin of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" fame. Gates, who stuttered over his teleprompted lines, was no match for the excitable and hilarious Philbin, who clearly (and successfully) ad-libbed his way through the only fun part of the monotonous and overly long keynote. Gates even did a faked "man-in-the-street" segment where he left the stage and supposedly went outside to report back by camera (it was all pretaped, of course). Not coincidentally, Gates' departure was the best part of the keynote; he left Philbin ripping up the stage with XP shell guru Joe Belfiore.

And Speaking of Hype
Microsoft must have spent most of its $250 million Windows XP marketing budget in one place: Times Square. According to several readers around the world, the launch events in different parts of the world weren't nearly as exciting as the event in New York, although as I note above, the New York show was too boring and too long. But New York City, especially Times Square, is simply bursting with XP ads; every free surface is covered with XP blues and greens, Windows flags, and "Yes you can" messages. "There was only one place to launch Windows XP," Gates said to the 2000 attendees during his keynote, "right here in the heart of New York." I'm sure that's a comforting thought for the thousands of people who attended the other launches worldwide.

Windows Architect Gets Reality Check
Microsoft rightly highlighted Group Vice President Jim Allchin during the XP keynote for his 11-year drive to make a Windows NT-based OS the company's key product, replacing the "toy" OS (Windows 9x) that preceded it. But Allchin downplayed XP's potential impact on the market when he admitted that even XP might not be enough to overcome the industry's problems. "\[XP\] will have an impact," he said, "but given the terrorists, given the world economy, who knows when that will be? It's only a product." Something tells me that Microsoft's shareholders might have a slightly higher opinion of the culmination of 11 years of work, which Gates earlier said amounted to 7000 to 10,000 man-years of work.

XP Not the Only Tool We Saw on Launch Day
Although Bill Gates referred to XP as "the most important tool that's ever been created," XP wasn't the only tool we saw during the keynote address. At one point, Microsoft telecast a short live feed of recording artist Sting to the theater. "I hope the product launch is going well," Sting said, and then he screwed up his face a bit, as if embarrassed by the whole Microsoft/XP affiliation. At this point, my friend, apparently reading Sting's mind, whispered, "I am such a tool." I still haven't stopped laughing.

You Didn't Really Think Microsoft Designed That Stuff, Did You?
This week, we learned that frog design, the legendary product-design company, created the overall visual design for Windows Media Player for Windows XP (MPXP) and the new Windows XP flag. This news should come as no surprise; Microsoft's designs all end up looking like WordPad and the command-line window in XP, which still bears the old Windows 9x-style title bar, even when it uses the new UI. Some of frog design's more famous designs include the Apple II and original Macintosh, the Next cube, and the Vadem Clio. But if you're wondering about the sea of blues and greens that pervade in the new XP UI, wonder no more. That was all Microsoft's doing.

Like Cats and Ketchup
Compaq, Compaq, Compaq, you just don't get it. Compaq's ads for XP include such taglines as "Like Coffee and the Newspaper," "Like Peanut Butter and Jelly," and "Like New Year's and Right Here" (that slogan appears on a billboard in Times Square, where Microsoft held the launch). The net effect is that it's far too easy to come up with parody tag lines, such as "Like Short Takes and Friday" and "Like everything that's wrong with the world and (yep, you guessed it) Frank Stallone."

Peace, Love, and...Windows XP
This item is too funny. For months now, a large building right next to the Port Authority in Manhattan has been whitewashed so that its entire face is an IBM ad that reads "Peace. Love. Linux." and features a towering penguin visage. Beginning the day of the XP launch, however, someone repainted the building with a new ad. The new ad uses the same whitewash effect and read, "A better experience. Windows XP."

Ted Waite Throws a Wet Blanket on XP
At a press question-and-answer session before the launch, a member of the press asked the CEOs of Dell, Compaq, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard (HP), Sony, and Toshiba how the XP release will affect sales. The CEOs who answered the question said that they felt the new product would positively affect sales--all except Gateway CEO Ted Waite, who flatly stated that XP would have no effect at all. Later in the day, however, his company announced that it has already shipped 100,000 units loaded with XP.

Dell, Intel, Microsoft Take Turns Beating Chests
In a display of bravado usually reserved for elementary school recess sessions, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, Dell CEO Michael Dell, and Intel CEO Craig Barrett each took the time to get a chuckle during the press question-and-answer session by admitting how big and powerful their companies are. I find this sort of thing disconcerting rather than humorous, and I suspect that the CEOs for Compaq, Gateway, HP, Sony, and Toshiba were particularly upset about Dell's callous comments about his company being the only one making money on PCs (which got big laughs, by the way). The bigger they are...

Where Are Those Color Schemes?
I asked several people at Microsoft about the additional color schemes that the company had planned for Windows XP, which ships with only standard blue, silver, and olive green color schemes. The answer is a bit complicated. End users, especially technology enthusiasts, would probably love to tweak the XP UI, but a problem is delaying any other color schemes. Third-party XP applications, which enhance the XP UI, would be exponentially more complicated if they couldn't rely on certain color schemes. I saw quite a few of these applications, such as McAfee Security Services, that look so much like XP they're indistinguishable from Microsoft's own bundled features. If Microsoft supported 10 color schemes out of the box, these applications would have to support those schemes as well. I told Microsoft that people still want this capability, and the consensus is that Microsoft will implement additional color schemes, but nobody knows when.

Fun Facts About Windows Users
According to Microsoft, more than 400 million people were using Windows 9x when XP launched, and more than 70 million were using Windows 2000 and Windows NT (these numbers don't refer to licenses, but to actual users). These figures compare to about 15 million Macintosh users and a similar number of Linux users. So if you wonder where the term monopoly came from, these numbers probably have something to do with it.

Microsoft Launches Purple Yahoo! Eater; Yahoo! Not Amused
In addition to Windows XP, Microsoft also launched MSN 7--its overly purple Web destination--this week. I asked about the purple color scheme and was met with blank stares at first, although the Microsoft people I talked to finally came around to the notion that some people--believe it or not--might not like the dark purple colors. If this color scheme changes down the road, and honestly it should, it will be because people complained. So complain. In the meantime, you might also consider the "Yahoo! Experience," which subverts Internet Explorer (IE) into using Yahoo! Web properties instead of MSN. You won't see any purple unless you ask for it. Imagine that.

Where Are All the WMA Devices?
You'll be hard pressed to find Windows Media Audio (WMA)-compatible devices, which are much scarcer than MP3-compatible devices, but that didn't stop Microsoft from showing off a table full of WMA-compatible gadgets at the launch, giving the somewhat deceptive appearance that this format is widely supported. Unfortunately, two of the devices won't be around for much longer; Intel makes them, and the company announced this week that it's exiting the consumer gadget market.

Mac OS X, Linux Users Cry Foul Over XP
Some Mac OS X users are crying copycat over Windows XP, although they obviously don't understand the timing of certain features and who really had what first. A particularly fascinating thread on various Macintosh OS sites these days revolves around Intel copying Apple's "digital hub" ads, noting that Apple introduced the concept a month earlier than Intel did. What they don't note, of course, is that Apple stole the idea from Microsoft, which publicized it months earlier than Apple with its "Hub of a Connected Home" campaign. In fact, that was the theme of Bill Gates' Consumer Electronics Show (CES) keynote in January, just days before Jobs "innovated" the same concept in his own MacWorld keynote. Meanwhile, Linux advocates have a reason to be upset, too, but it has nothing to do with Microsoft copying Linux features. Now that mainstream users have access to XP's rock-solid reliability and stability, they'll have to find some other reason to deride Windows users.

Crazed Madonna Fan Correct, Singing Star in Malta
When I said that Madonna might make an appearance at the Windows XP launch--which several Microsoft employees verified, by the way--an obsessed fan of the recording star sent me an email noting that Madonna "would be in Malta recording a movie" at the time of the XP launch and would have nothing to do with "a small, insignificant gig" like the XP launch. I was amazed that anyone would know so much about Madonna's whereabouts and mentioned the email to a few people. We were sitting in the audience before the keynote address and a marketing executive from the company that made those annoying XP TV ads commented about Madonna. We asked about a potential appearance. "She's in Malta filming a movie," he told us, and we just burst out laughing. Of course she is. And that's the last time I doubt a true fan. Here's the best quote from the email I received: "Madonna performing at the Windows XP Launch would be like Barbra Streisand performing at your son's 5th birthday party!"

Ray of Light? I'll Give You a Ray of Light!
Get this song out of my head! Speaking of Madonna, I liked the song "Ray of Light" before the launch, but it's been hammered into my head so much during the past few days that I can't stand it any more. "Ray of Light" pumped continuously over the speakers at the XP Product Pavilion before the keynote address, the song is on TV all the time, and it's even on certain annoying Web sites. Please stop. Please.

See the XP Launch in New York City
I have a large set of pictures we took before, during, and after the XP launch in New York, if you're curious. Visit the SuperSite for Windows to see what we experienced in New York during the launch.

See Me On Compaq's Win2TV
And finally, I appeared this week on Compaq's excellent Win2TV, a Web-casted technology show. Go to the Compaq Web site to see my strangely hunched appearance on Win2TV, where I discuss Windows XP with host Dan O'Rourke.

TAGS: Windows 8
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