Cram a motley crew of marketing executives, a four-piece lipstick pop act, Rove McManus, some abseilers, some fashion models and around 2000 punters into the Sydney Superdome at Homebush and what do you get? The launch of Microsoft's new operating system, Windows XP, which took place yesterday.
It certainly takes a lot of money to launch enthusiasm for a software product these days. Just when we all thought the hype was over and the days of raffling off Jeep Cherokees as lucky door prizes were over, Microsoft puts a few paltry million behind the launch of a new product and its all hot air balloons, giant screens and helicopters.
The next few weeks will determine whether all the fuss over XP was worth it. Although Microsoft Australia managing director Paul Houghton conceded that most of Microsoft's sales of the operating system would come through its OEM agreements, the real test of XP's success will be decided amongst resellers and retailers in the coming months.
Houghton and XP product manager Paul Roworth defused recent comments by retail giant Gerry Harvey that XP would not provide the boost the PC channel so desperately needs. Roworth said there was huge support for the operating system's launch among resellers, with the likes of Grace Bros in Sydney's Pitt St Mall opening early for the retail launch of the product and Harris Technology hosting a stall at the Homebush launch event.
"We have trained over 12,000 sales reps in the retail channel, many of whom work for Harvey Norman," Roworth said.
In a recent special XP edition published by Australian Reseller News, Harvey Norman's general manager of computers and communications, John Slack-Smith, said the real retail opportunity for XP was its introduction of new software add-ons that may spur sales in peripheral products.
During the launch event, Roworth and several Microsoft colleagues demonstrated several of XP's new software features to support and enhance the use of digital audio and video devices, as well as mobile/handheld communications. Retailers are hoping that these advancements in software will drive the sale of products such as handheld computers, digital cameras and Web video cameras.
It is also possible however that these applications, such as the in-built audio and video tools built into the operating system, will upset several of Microsoft's Independent Software Vendors (ISVs). Many ISV partners, whose bread and butter is in developing such tools, are likely to feel threatened by such applications being bundled with the operating system. Houghton dismissed these claims, saying that the tools Microsoft provides are generally for entry-level use. Instead of hampering ISV partners, they are likely to encourage the growth of new software industries around more sophisticated versions of the technology.