Microsoft Corp. won't ship the consumer version of Vista in time for the holiday shopping season, but the software giant is working hard to keep the next major Windows release in the minds of shoppers.
The Redmond, Wash., company on Thursday used the DigitalLife 2006 conference in New York to tout the more than 250 hardware and software products from over 50 industry partners that have been certified as Vista ready. Many of these products will sport a Vista logo on store shelves.
Of course, nothing would help the sales of these products more than to have Vista-equipped PCs available during the biggest shopping time of the year. But since that won't happen, Microsoft and partners are scrambling to find ways to convince consumers that's its OK to buy Vista-ready products now in preparation for when the operating system ships in January, assuming Microsoft sticks with the scheduled release.
During the opening keynote address, Mike Sievert, corporate vice president of Windows client marketing at Microsoft, listed some Vista-certified products that would be available this year, including Nvidia GeForce graphic cards, Logitech's cordless mice and keyboards, the QuickCam Ultra Vision Web camera; and InterVideo's DVD-burning software.
A slew of other vendors are in the process of getting certification for software and hardware that will ship around the same time as Vista, including Hewlett-Packard, Belkin Corp., D-Link Systems Inc., Epson, Fujifilm, Lexmark, Olympus, SanDisk Corp., Seagate Technology Inc., Symantec Corp., Trend Micro Inc., Viewsonic Corp. and Yahoo! Inc.
Microsoft's effort to market a product during the holiday season while not planning to make it available is a rarity in consumer retail.
"There's no precedent in my mind," Harry Wang, research analyst for Parks Associates said.
The closest comparison would be the TV industry, Wang said. Manufacturers selling analog sets today are telling consumers that government coupons will be available in 2008 to help pay for converters that will make it possible for the TVs to receive digital signals. Starting Feb. 17, 2009, TV networks will be required to broadcast only digital programming.
Microsoft is reportedly planning to include a coupon with each Windows XP- or Tablet PC-equipped computer bought between Oct. 26, 2006, and March 15, 2007, for a free or discounted upgrade to Vista.
That, however, isn't expected to help sales much during the holiday season, since it's unlikely consumers who need the higher performance promised in Vista would buy an XP computer in the interim, Wang said. "They'll probably hold on to their purchase position until January."
Most consumers buy computers when the old ones no longer are able to handle the software the users want to run. For many of these buyers, it won't make a difference whether Vista is ready or not.
"The PC purchase is more dependent on how badly they need to upgrade their existing one," Wang said.
Other experts are equally skeptical whether there's much Microsoft can do now to drive Vista sales later. Gartner, for example, said offering Vista coupons is unlikely to boost sales because of the cost of upgrading an XP PC. Besides the additional $49 and $79 consumers would reportedly pay for Vista Home Basic and Home Premium, respectively, there's also the cost of having a retailer or reseller install the new OS.
Wang agrees. "Price will be an important factor."