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This time, Microsoft goes light on the hype

When Microsoft Corp. released Windows 95 nearly three years ago, a $200-million marketing blitz heralded the arrival of the operating system upgrade.

Microsoft bought the rights to a Rolling Stones song, Start Me Up, for a massive television advertising campaign. In New York, the company paid to light the Empire State Building with the software logo's colors. At a carnival at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Wash., Tonight Show host Jay Leno took the stage to hype the event.

Expect the June 25 introduction of Windows 98 to be far more subdued.

"I think you can do that only once, and it's probably just as well," said David Coursey, editor of coursey.com, the Redwood City, Calif.-based electronic newsletter for the computer industry.

Microsoft officials say it's too early to talk about their overall marketing plan for Windows 98. Early this month, the software giant held its biggest promotion yet for the $90 upgrade, and it was decidedly low-key.

From studios at its campus near Seattle, Microsoft broadcast what effectively was a live, two-hour infomercial for Windows 98 and some of its other products to more than 38,000 people in 45 movie theaters (including one in Pinellas Park) across the United States and Canada.

One reason for the quieter approach is that Windows 98 is not as dramatic a departure from Windows 95 as that product was from its predecessor, Windows 3.1. Microsoft officials note that Windows 98 has the same "look and feel" as Windows 95.

Analysts also speculated that Microsoft will be more restrained promoting Windows 98 because of intensified scrutiny by the Justice Department into whether the company uses its dominance in operating systems to drive competitors out of other software businesses.

And even as it introduces Windows 98, Microsoft is increasingly focused on Windows NT, its system for business computer networks, which is expected to eventually become the company's main product for consumers as well.

Computer enthusiasts are expected to embrace the new program. Windows Magazine surveyed its readers and found 87 percent plan to make the upgrade in the first year that the product is available.

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