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MS: ‘you need to buy Whistler because Win-9x sucks’

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When MS moved from DOS to Windows, they did indeed roll out a new operating system (admittedly dependent on DOS, but different enough). Now they're trying it again; but as we've pointed out many times, the only thing 'new' about Win-9x's replacement, Whistler, is that it might be a Windows consumer OS which actually works as advertised. Nevertheless, the company is betting on big success in the consumer market.

How can MS feed its insatiable appetite for revenue flow with the rollout of an improved older system which it ought to have made to work properly in the first place? Or, simply put, how can MS mass-market a Windows-patch for revenue-soothing megabucks?

As our John Lettice wisely points out, the company begins by insisting against all common sense that Whistler, despite appearances, is actually a whole new OS. Say it often enough, and people might start to believe it.

But the mere fact of being 'new' really isn't good enough to sell it in vast quantities. Sure, the OEMs will put it on new boxes, but the company still has to convince existing 9x users to buy into it as well.

The next logical step is to boost consumer desire with a complimentary spin campaign, subtly hinting at the previous product's inferiority and hence setting up a 'need' for its replacement. Logical, yes, but tricky.

Thus we were much amused when MS Consumer Division Veep Rick Belluzzo went on the record last week with in-house flacks, attempting to walk a very fine line between establishing need for Whistler and slagging Win-9x.

"2001 will be a big year for consumers with the launch of a new version of the Windows operating system, code-named 'Whistler,'" Belluzzo says. So now we know; the beast has decided to declare it neither an upgrade nor a new OS. It's a 'new version,' occupying a twilight zone between the two points, and thus offering maximum marketing spin-potential without actually lying.

"Whistler will be significant because it will bring consumers the rock-solid reliability of today's Windows 2000 operating system that businesses are using, and it will provide a number of new advancements. All of these changes will converge this year to deliver incredible new experiences for consumers."

So there we have the second bit; 'rock-solid reliability,' which 9x users clearly haven't been enjoying, is going to form the basis of MS' 'you-need-Whistler' pitch. The question is whether MS is treading the line with skill, or officially admitting in public that 9x sucks, as many current users believe it does enthusiastically.

If the latter, then we have to wonder if consumers will be willing to lay out good money to see something they've already bought fixed properly.

Some of the more cynical among us might go so far as to imagine that they deserve a free Whistler upgrade as compensation for having put up with 9x and it's officially-confessed lack of 'rock-solid stability' for several years, and perhaps even an apology for taking so long to get it right. ®

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