The Wow Starts Now: Vista Launches to Consumers

With more than a bit of bombast, Microsoft formally launched the consumer versions of Windows Vista on Monday, and the product is now available for purchase in an unprecedented number of ways. Consumers interested in acquiring Windows Vista Home Basic, Home Premium, or Ultimate can now do so via new PC purchases, mail-in upgrades for Windows XP-based PCs purchased since November, in packaged form at traditional and electronic retailers, or even electronically, via direct downloads from Microsoft's Web sites.

Though Vista was delayed at least two years beyond its original due date, most industry onlookers now expect the system to drive PC, hardware, and software sales for several years to come. Dell, for example, noted that sales through its online store jumped 20 percent immediately when it began offering Vista-based PC for sale over the weekend. This year, over 100 million people are expected to upgrade to Vista, and that number will jump to 200 million by the end of 2008. And analysts say that the wider PC industry will earn $18 for every dollar Microsoft does, underscoring the importance of this software.

Microsoft's launch event in New York was divided into a number of events. At noon, the software giant hosted an invite-only luncheon and press reception at Cipriani, where I renamed the restaurant's famous Bellini drink as the "Vistini." A wider celebration event was held later at the Nikon Theater in Times Square. There, overly-loud music acts set the tone for the day, and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer were on hand to kick things off.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is finally pushing out its massive and expensive ad campaign for Vista as well. Dubbed "The Wow Starts Now" and often simply abbreviated to just "Wow," the new campaign focuses on the positive reactions users will have while using Vista. The idea is that people will be impressed by Vista and its capabilities.

Speaking with various PC makers on Monday, I was told that they expect Windows Vista Home Premium to be the volume version of the OS with consumers, while both Home Basic and Ultimate are expected to maintain solid sales with the budget PC and enthusiast crowds, respectively. PC makers are also relying on Vista's high-end hardware requirements to drive additional upgrades such as RAM, video cards, faster and larger hard drives, and displays.

Microsoft on Monday also launched the retail versions of Office 2007, which comes in numerous flavors, including a consumer-oriented Home and Student edition that retails for $150 and can be installed on three PCs and a high-end Ultimate edition that costs a whopping $670. My reviews of Windows Vista and Office 2007 are available on the SuperSite for Windows.

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