CLEARWATER — Fourteen years ago, Tech Data Corp. was abuzz with the launch of Microsoft's much-awaited Windows 95, the new operating system software for personal computers.
Many versions of Windows later, the distributor of computer parts and software again is pumped up for today's official debut of Windows 7. It is the latest and, according to most tech reviews so far, a two-thumbs-up version of the Windows software that most PCs on the planet still depend on.
"Windows now is so well known it's become a generic word like Kleenex or Windex," says Bob Dutkowsky, CEO of Tech Data, Tampa Bay's largest corporation.
Is Windows 7 going to be a blockbuster product?
"It will be an interesting launch," he answers judiciously, explaining how Windows 7 replaces the lukewarm Vista version of Windows.
Don't underestimate Tech Data's anticipation. Microsoft expects to ship 177 million copies of Windows 7 by the end of 2010, an astonishing sales number in the history of any man-made product.
At Tech Data's home office, Windows 7 decorations and preparations abound. Balloon clusters adorn the entrance. Windows 7 posters emblazon elevator doors. And this morning, explains vice president Brian Davis, the company will be awash in Microsoft staffers as well as tech teams from PC makers Lenovo, Asus and others — all on hand to support the launch and to pitch their own new Windows 7-installed PCs.
There's wide anticipation that Windows 7 will drive a new boom in tech sales. The software has won kudos for its intuitive simplicity, energy efficiency and sheer speed over past versions.
Legions of Tech Data's sales staffers sit prepped and ready on the company's third floor at desks equipped with two PC screens and headsets. Spurred on by the giant motivational posters, these employees are ready to sell, sell, sell. The company boasts 1,500 staffers in Clearwater and 8,000 worldwide. It generates close to $24 billion in sales a year — more than any other public company in the Sunshine State.
Dutkowsky, 54, says times have changed since Windows 95 and the 1990s, when companies routinely upgraded their computer systems to the next generation of Windows software "just because" it was new.
"People were afraid competitors would get an advantage with new systems," the Tech Data executive says. "But that's no longer the environment we're in. Before people buy Windows 7, they want to know: Will it make me more productive? Will it help me be more profitable? Will it make my system more secure?"
Nor is Microsoft — still a powerful force in technology — quite as potent as it once was. Apple has captured a new, loyal generation with the iPod, customers who in turn purchase Apple computers, says Dutkowsky. And free online software — called open source software with names such as Linux and, more recently, Google-created Android — will become tougher competitors to Microsoft as people rely less on traditional desktops and laptops and shift to netbooks and sophisticated phones that are, in reality, handheld computers.
The real gem of Windows 7 is the hope it may prompt businesses and individuals — literally a billion users worldwide — to refresh their aging systems by purchasing new PCs running Microsoft's new software. Tech Data executives argue that the world's "PC fleet" is nearing 4 years old — ancient in tech years — because so many users held off purchasing new systems because of the recession and bad buzz over Windows Vista.
If Windows 7 sustains the early favorable reviews, its rapid infusion into the world's PCs could help spur the country a bit more quickly out of the recession.
Amid Microsoft's next-generation marketing of Windows 7, the company has teamed up with Fox TV's prime-time animated show Family Guy to do an uninterrupted variety show based on Windows 7. It airs Nov. 8.
In Tampa, tech veteran Fritz Eichelberger has been using a "beta" or test version of Windows 7 for several months. He likes it.
"Companies are still pretty gun shy about spending money on Microsoft after the first generation of Vista," he said Wednesday. "Soon, companies will realize that Windows 7 is really Vista done right."
A billion people may be counting on it.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at email@example.com.