Microsoft Fetes Vista With Glitter And Hype

laser kickoff of its new Windows operating system

Dell saw a 20 percent increase in traffic to its Web site this weekend and sold "tens of thousands of copies" as it began accepting Vista pre-orders, CEO Kevin Rollins said during a panel discussion with partners that Microsoft hosted before its official launch bash in New York Monday evening.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer predicted that Vista will sell twice as many copies in its first three months on the street as Windows XP did, and five times the number Windows 95 moved.

"While some of that is the size of the install base, a lot of it is the enthusiasm we've been able to see and feel during this beta period," Ballmer said. The always-ebullient executive was nearly vibrating with glee during his remarks, on what he called "the eve of the biggest launch in Microsoft history."

Microsoft gathered heavy-hitter partners to join Ballmer in fielding questions, including top executives from Intel, AMD, Hewlett-Packard and Toshiba. Amid plaudits about Vista's improved user experience and security, they acknowledged that Vista will lead buyers into higher-end hardware as they try to keep up with the operating system's resource demands.

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"Customers would be wise to make sure their investment is well-placed, and that they get enough hardware to run all the capabilities that they have," Rollins said. "We will recommend to customers that they make sure their hardware is as richly configured as they can afford."

Hewlett-Packard Personal Systems Group head Todd Bradley spoke about the "improved value for money" his company strives to offer as hardware costs fall but resource demands increase.

"I think Vista provides a great upgrade path for our installed base," Bradley said. "We see Vista as an opportunity to really focus on the enthusiast and drive some higher-end products."

Several hours after the partner panel, Microsoft chairman and icon Bill Gates took the stage in New York's Times Square for a few brief remarks touting Vista's suitability for modern consumer demands. He hailed the new operating system as one tailored for the multimedia, always-connected computing demands of users who rely on their PCs for gaming, watching movies, organizing digital photos, communicating with family and friends, work duties, and a blizzard of personal information-management tasks.

"Windows 95 was key to its era, and Windows Vista is key to the era we have today," Gates said.

After a demo of how his family uses Vista, Windows Client Marketing Corporate Vice President Mike Sievert summed up the new operating system's selling points: "Easier, safer, better-connected when you're on the go, and a lot more fun."

For the first time in more than a decade, Microsoft is simultaneously launching a major refresh to both Windows and Office. Office 2007 is available for download on Microsoft's Web site for a free, 60-day trial.

For trial customers that decide to buy, Microsoft is offering a direct-purchase option, but Office head Chris Capossela had reassurances at the ready for channel partners worried about losing sales. In Microsoft's earlier download-before-you-buy offerings, 60 percent of the customers who decided to buy went out and bought the physical software CDs through a channel seller, he said.

"We asked them 'Would you have bought Office if you hadn't [downloaded the trial]?,' and the vast majority said 'no,' so we see this as a program that benefits our retail partners," said Capossela, the corporate vice president of Microsoft's Business Division Product Management Group.

Microsoft is also offering some systems builders a referral fee on Office activations on systems they pre-load with a trial version, but the program has irked smaller partners not invited to participate.

While the final version of Vista lacks many of the bells-and-whistles Microsoft initially touted as part of its Longhorn vision, the new operating system is nonetheless expected to drive a significant PC upgrade cycle this year. When it officially goes on sale Tuesday, Vista will be available in 39,000 retail outlets in 70 countries, Microsoft executives said.