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MS to blow imaginary $1bn on hyping WinXP to stardom

Sane voices to be drowned in four month carpet bombing

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Whenever Redmond marketing says "$1 billion" you just know it's not going to be true. And this week's bid by Microsoft president and COO (didn't he do well?) Rick Belluzzo to kick-start the WinXP feeding frenzy is no exception.

Speaking at a Microsoft partner marketing day in Las Vegas yesterday Belluzzo shared (it says here) "Microsoft's plans for the marketing frenzy behind Microsoft Windows XP and [launched] an unprecedented campaign for the revolutionary new operating system." To be fair Microsoft only says that it and its partners are kicking off "a billion dollar marketing campaign" for XP, but the unwary will still fail to clock how little Microsoft itself will actually be spending.

The list of involved partners of course extends to virtually everybody - Intel, the PC companies, resellers, distributors - and all of them, obviously, will be spending money on promoting their own wares in conjunction with XP. The economic situation being what it is, they are desperate people anyway. Intel in particular will be chucking megabucks at promoting the Pentium 4, and Microsoft does bashfully inform us that "a total of $500 million" will come from Microsoft and Intel alone "to promote Windows XP and Pentium 4 PCs."

If we presume Intel's contribution to this is not unadjacent to the $300 million it's already committed to spending on P4 promotion, then Microsoft's own spend might just be read as being $200 million, with the hardware manufacturers and the channel shouldering the rest. That would, however, be an unsafe presumption.

You see, dear reader, this sort of money is not real; you could maybe refer to it as fluffybucks. In exchange for promoting the right wares in the right way, channel partners receive all sorts of support in the form of discounts, subsidies, co-op marketing money and the like from the hardware suppliers. And the software suppliers. And Intel. Hardware suppliers promoting their wares get similar deals from their suppliers, sometimes resulting in them getting money for doing absolutely pointless things.

Like, for example, the tag on some PC vendors' ads currently running in the UK that says they only ship with genuine Microsoft Windows, and here's the URL for the 'grass a friend' service. The first part of this at least is somewhat redundant, but the money involved gets accounted for as part of Microsoft's allegedly huge 'fighting piracy' spend,* so everybody's happy.

Back at the marketing spend minefield, however, the only thing clear is that nothing's clear. And to confuse matters further marketing spend tends to be fuzzed into development costs, so huge amounts of fluffybucks can pop up in wild marketing claims covering several departments. But it's usually the same money, and it frequently barely exists anyway. Check the annual report to see how much marketing and R&D spend went up and you might get somewhere in the same hemisphere as the truth, but probably not much closer.

What though is it that these fluffybucks are promoting? Belluzzo said: "With release candidate 1 of Windows XP coming in the next ten days, we are working together with our top software, hardware, channel and retailing partners to communicate the amazing set of experiences delivered with Windows XP." Note in passing that ten days from the 26th gets us to 5th-6th July, so it might be next Friday rather than the 'final cut-off' 4th July, but we'll see.

At the client level XP is Win2k with bolt-ons, many of them naggy pop-ups. It's got built-in CD burning, from Roxio, but CD burning isn't hard (although sometimes Roxio does a fair job of making it look so). It's got built in Windows Media Player, the salient features of which appear to us to be that it's intended to push WMA format and Microsoft Digital Rights Management systems. Which is good for Microsoft, we accept.

And then there's the revolutionary new UI, which isn't; it makes a few minor moves in the right direction, some more in the wrong one - it's a twiddle. But it's got pretty icons - great.

The recently re-tagged Windows.NET Server brings a little more to the picture. It is appropriately called Windows.NET Server, we are told by some excessively grumpy and resentful churl sites, because it will ship with the .NET Common Language Runtime (CLR). The renaming is therefore not a marketing decision, as the gutter press at The Register claimed.

But the CLR will ship as an add-on for Win2k server, which will allow businesses to implement .NET without having to "upgrade" to Windows.NET. As Gartner eloquently puts it, "The Windows.NET Server naming should be considered a branding change, not a fundamental technology change." It isn't a major architectural change from Win2k, "it remains a minor upgrade."

Not a lot there, is there, to justify the billion dollars Microsoft will be inducing everybody else to spend on getting you lot to buy it? Just try to hold on to this as the frenzy builds to its October crescendo. ®

* Money spent on boasting about anti-piracy successes probably also counts as money spent on fighting piracy. Boasting about the amount of money spent on anti-piracy could also count as money spent on fighting piracy. We'd best stop there before disappearing up our own fundament, but as Chairman Lou could have said, what goes around comes around, and frequently meets itself coming back.

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