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What will Microsoft do for "elevenses"?

 

That goofy clock is one of the “trophies” hanging on my wall that someone on the Windows 95 launch team made in the heady days after that launch.  On my bookshelf is one of the 30,000 Windows 95 Special Edition boxes that were made, after the launch.  Windows 95 probably set the bar for all future product launches in the software industry.    

Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of Microsoft’s listing on the NASDAQ, and also the “Corporate” launch of Windows Vista.  The plan is to have a consumer launch in January, when the rest of us poor shmucks who aren’t on a corporate buying plan can get the product.

The launch strategy for Windows Vista is, putting it mildly, confusing. 

One has the impression that, months and months ago, somebody in corporate marketing at Microsoft decided that it would be a nice thing to time the Vista launch with 20th anniversay of Microsoft’s Wall Street debut.  Then the product slipped.  Once the train was set in motion, nobody had the guts to say “Hey… maybe we should do something else on the 20th Anniversary”. 

So, now, we’re going to have “second launches”… it’s a bit like the “second breakfasts”, followed by “elevenses” that Tolkien’s Hobbits so dearly love.

John Dvorak is right when he labels this strategy Dullsville, and opines that this launch will have no impact on Microsoft’s stock price. It’s no surprise when he reports that computer manufacturers aren’t expecting a bump in sales until August.  Product launches are for consumers, not corporate customers.  Consumers buy computers in the last two quarters of the calendar year — one bump for back to school, and one bump for the Christmas season.  By January, consumers wallets are dry, and a limp first quarter launch isn’t going to get them all rushing out to spend money on OS upgrades.

Consumer product launches generate spikes of interest, driving people to retail.  A bigger spike is a simple formula for creating larger sales.  Marketers who talk about “rolling launches” are talking about corporate sales.  Rolling launches and consumers don’t mix.

The company couldn’t have done anything about the product slipping.  Quality needs to come before making a date.  Someone in Windows marketing, though, should have the gumption to say “Let’s put all our wood behind one arrow.  Let’s slip the launch too. Let’s use November through January to build anticipation and drive customers to the stores in droves for the launch. Let’s create a really big spike.”  It wouldn’t have mattered a darn to Microsoft’s corporate sales teams. They’re not going to close any business in December while their customers are at holiday parties.  It might have made a huge impact on consumer sales though.

With Windows 95 we built a huge spike of anticipation.  That’s why people lined up at midnight on launch day to get it.   That’s why it was the success that it was, and had the impact on Microsoft’s stock price that it did. 

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