Why the latest move by Microsoft matters

Most companies spend a lot of money on announcing that they have their new products available — they book advertising in trade magazines such as this publication, they hire conference rooms to gather together groups of journalists for a press briefing, in some cases they even fly lucky hacks off to exotic destinations to entice them to write more content. Microsoft, however, gets people writing about its products years before they’re even ready to be shipped.

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By  Peter Branton Published  January 29, 2006

|~|Sinofsky4body.jpg|~|Steven Sinofsky, one of the senior executives looking after the development of Office 12, refused to give too much away about its release date.|~|Most companies spend a lot of money on announcing that they have their new products available — they book advertising in trade magazines such as this publication, they hire conference rooms to gather together groups of journalists for a press briefing, in some cases they even fly lucky hacks off to exotic destinations to entice them to write more content. Microsoft, however, gets people writing about its products years before they’re even ready to be shipped. The next-generation of the Windows operating system, originally code-named Longhorn, now formally named Vista, was having its shipment date debated for at least two years before Microsoft formally announced it. When the company said last year that it would ship in the second half of this year, it generated intense debate as to which month it would ship in (for the record, we’re betting its going to be a sight closer to December than July). As with Windows, likewise for Office: Office 12 (the code-name for the product, a formal name has yet to be assigned) is scheduled to ship sometime in the second half of this year, but just try getting any Microsoft executive to give a more precise answer than that. Steven Sinofsky, one of the senior executives looking after the development of Office 12, pretty much refused pointblank to give too much away about its release date, sticking firmly to the official line of second half of this year. Why does Microsoft get this sort of attention?, you may ask. Let’s face it, you’re only going to ask that question if you haven’t been near a data centre or read an IT magazine since the 1980s. The simple fact is that Microsoft’s near-monopoly position in the desktop market means that new versions of its key products — Windows and Office — are going to be massive sellers, more or less regardless of what it does. Which isn’t to say that it has it all its own way of course. As Sinofsky acknowledges, that very pre-eminence brings its own problems: a huge installed base of happy customers means a huge installed base of people who see no reason to buy the latest version of your product. With Office 12, at least part of the challenge is that a lot of existing Office users don’t know half of the features that are contained in current versions of the productivity suite. With any new release, Microsoft tries to get users interested in new features in its products. This time it may well find itself reminding users of features they already have — and then finding out that they will stick with them. ||**||

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