OPINION: Fishing for XPerience

OPINION: Fishing for XPerience

I have had to travel a very long way to find myself in a Windows XP blackout zone.

As you read this, I am lost in the backcountry of the Snowy Mountains - fishing. No phone, no computer, no television - it counts as one of the few places for which the word connectivity has nothing to do with communication, and I must admit to revelling in it. For now. Give me two more weeks (maybe less if the fish aren't biting), and no doubt e-mail withdrawal will set in. And although I have been counting down the months until I was able to escape into the bush, I was a little disappointed upon realising I would miss the launch.

Yes, I can hear you all muttering, "It's easy for her to talk while she's standing in a river somewhere and I'm working my butt off."

Thankfully, Microsoft has kindly provided me with a pair of XP-branded shorts to tie me over while I am incommunicado. Yep. It is the height of fashion here at ARN.

This launch may lack the craziness which saw retailers pulling all-nighters to deal with customers queuing down the street in the quest to be among the first to upgrade - à la Windows 95 - but it hasn't been for want of trying on Microsoft's part. The hype for XP has been phenomenal and it is in full swing. But before dismissing it as just that, consider the advantages it will bring to your business. The marketing monolith that is Microsoft has provided a much-needed shot in the arm, $US250 million worldwide, to an industry that has been dogged by losses, consolidation, uncertainty and a distinct lack of promotional dollars.

To its credit, Microsoft has also recognised the value of regional dealers. Don't be surprised if over the next few months the software giant rolls into town with all the bells and whistles of a full-scale product roadshow. With new technology, new licensing arrangements and a range of hardware issues, the channel is essential to the success of the new OS.

One of the biggest issues will be compatibility, particularly when the software on existing machines is upgraded. There are a lot of new drivers needed for XP and end users will be looking to their resellers to explain the ins and outs of upgrading. And while many vendors, particularly chip makers Intel and AMD, have released products optimised for XP, there are still a few manufacturers out there who are slow off the mark with drivers for their products. It could pose a problem for system builders who haven't done their homework and your customers are unlikely to differentiate between the hardware and the software if problems occur.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether end users choose XP as an essential upgrade or hold off purchasing for better times, particularly in light of recent world events. Consumers are most likely to be the first to purchase XP and retailers are crossing their fingers that it will lead to hardware sales. It could prove the clincher for the long-term success of the operating system.

As long as the initial experience remains positive. No amount of marketing money can undo a bad user experience - especially when that is the crux of the promotional strategy.

Georgina Swan is ARN's technology editor

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