Microsoft's Challenge: Promoting Windows 7 Without Downplaying Vista

Microsoft will have a juggling act on its hands in 2009 as it simultaneously tries to de-emphasize Windows XP, keep Vista relevant and raise awareness about Windows 7.

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Mon, December 08, 2008

CIOMicrosoft's tricky balancing act in 2009 will be to phase out Windows XP while boosting demand for Windows Vista and building anticipation for Windows 7.

Compounding this challenge is that Vista has been Microsoft's most embattled operating system, and though recent reports say that Vista has improved over the past year, there are also reports of a growing indifference from users. Many are sticking with Windows XP for now (or even requesting to "downgrade" to XP with new computer purchases) with the hope that Windows 7 will be more nimble and efficient than Vista.

Recent market share numbers from Net Applications Inc. show that Microsoft's market share is slipping with both Windows and the Internet Explorer browser, while companies like Apple and Mozilla keep making incremental gains. A silver lining in the Net Applications report is that Vista grew its market share in November and cracked the 20 percent mark for the fist time as Windows XP fell 1.81 percent.

With the definite release of Internet Explorer 8 and the possible release of Windows 7 happening in 2009, plus Microsoft's aggressive push into cloud computing with the Windows Azure operating system, the coming year looks to be a pivotal one for the software giant.

Keeping the Windows 7 Hype Machine on Low

So far, the hype surrounding Windows 7 has been kept to a minimum by Microsoft, likely an effort not to repeat the over-hyping that hurt Vista's release. Playing it cool with Windows 7 will also give Vista some breathing room as Windows XP slowly becomes less prevalent.

Tim Bajarin, president of consulting firm Creative Strategies, says that the potential conflict of enhancing demand for Vista while raising awareness about Windows 7 "does not seem to be impacting new sales of Vista on PCs. In fact, pushing Windows 7 appears to be keeping people from downsizing to Windows XP at the business and consumer level as people are now anticipating upgrading to 7 in the near future, and it is not worth the trouble to go back to XP."

The low-key marketing of Windows 7 is a smart tactic, says Michael Cherry, analyst with Directions on Microsoft, but warns that Microsoft should not become standoffish about the value of Windows 7.

"They are being much more low-key in discussing the features of Windows 7 to put the Windows team in a position where they have under-promised and hopefully can over-deliver," Cherry says. "But Microsoft has to begin to share information with partners and customers to help reduce any potential compatibility issues."

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