Windows Vista Launches to Consumers

Monday night marked the public launch of Windows Vista, and both Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer were on hand in New York City to officiate the festivities. A number of stores held "midnight madness" events, but did consumers bite?

Not yet. Unlike the launches of Sony's PlayStation 3 and the Nintendo Wii, those interested in being the first to install Vista were few and far between. A handful of stores around the country reported late-night lines, but most customers said they showed up for the other discounts being offered alongside Vista. Low temperatures on the East coast likely didn't help either.

Still, the success of Windows Vista is almost a foregone conclusion at this point, and Gates himself said Microsoft didn't expect a mad rush by consumers. Retail outlets believe sales will ramp up slowly, especially as consumers begin to upgrade their PCs. Most computer manufacturers have fully transitioned to Vista at this point.

In addition, using Windows whether for work or play has practically become a necessity these days, which means the operating system doesn't hold the same intrigue it did back in 1995 or 1998. Instead, Microsoft focused on Vista's more useful features and mundane when showing off the upgrade: new parental controls, enhanced security, and better search functionality.

But that doesn't mean Microsoft gave up on fanfare for the Vista launch Monday. The company rented out a theater at 1515 Broadway in Times Square and tapped Angels and Airwaves to provide the musical entertainment. Although the crowd of journalists, beta testers and other invitees largely ignored former Blink 182 front-man Tom DeLonge's new band, the vibe was positive (an open bar surely didn't hurt).

Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer touted different advantages of Vista, covering the consumer-oriented features and offerings from the company's many hardware partners. Executives from Dell, Intel, AMD, Toshiba and HP were invited on stage to receive special Windows Vista plaques signed by the Microsoft co-founders.

"Windows Vista and Microsoft Office 2007 will transform the way people work and play,” said Gates. “Personal computers have become a key part of the daily lives of almost a billion people worldwide. Millions of consumers had a hand in helping us design, test and create the most exciting versions of Windows and Office we’ve ever released. Windows Vista and Microsoft Office 2007 squarely address the needs and aspirations of people around the globe."

What was notably missing from the Vista Launch, however, was any discussion of the software available for the operating system from partners. While the Windows XP launch in 2001 largely centered around third party software, Microsoft only talked up Vista's built-in capabilities. The company once again mentioned the New York Times Reader it developed with the paper as if it were the only application that actually takes advantage of Vista's new capabilities.

While Vista was the center of attention Monday, Microsoft did make a number of references to Office 2007, which also went on sale today. Corporate Vice President Mike Sievert demonstrated the new Ribbon capabilities in Word, although most attendees were already quite familiar with the suite. Billboards around New York City rotated between images of Vista and Office 2007, noting, "The Wow Starts Now."

Perhaps most importantly Monday, Bill Gates thanked the over 5 million beta testers who helped the company make sure Windows Vista was up to snuff. He said that with the help of testers, Microsoft accomplished 60 years worth of performance testing. A number of those testers and MVPs were on hand at the event to receive the verbal pat on the back.

Windows Vista is available now in 70 countries and 19 languages, with 99 languages expected by the end of 2007. Microsoft says 1.5 million devices are on the market that currently work with Vista, and 2,500 of those are Vista Certified. But availability only means so much, and the rate of consumer adoption and enthusiasm for Vista remans to be seen.

Now that Windows Vista and Office 2007 are finally out, are you saying "Wow"?

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