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From the archives: For Microsoft, new highs in hype; Blizzard of ads greets Windows

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates sits on stage during

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates sits on stage during a video portion of the Windows '95 launch event. Credit: AP, 1995

This article was originally published in Newsday on Aug. 23, 1995

Deep in the Siberian hinterlands, where reindeer raising is a prominent trade, Thursday will come and go and someone may not know that Windows 95 went on sale.

But not much of the rest of the inhabited earth will escape the launching of Microsoft Corp.'s latest upgrade of the system that operates most of the world's personal computers.

Poles will take a submarine trip deep below the Baltic Sea to honor the software. Canadians will stroll beneath a mammoth flag flapping from the CN Tower in Toronto, declaring the advent. And at the main event at Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond, Wash., chairman Bill Gates - and, according to industry reports, master of ceremonies Jay Leno - will mark the occasion with games, food kiosks and a 60-foot-high Ferris wheel.

"It's going to be like Elvis showing up at Graceland," said a jubilant Alan Bush, president of Computer City, the Fort Worth, Texas-based chain. "Our stores are going to be mobbed."

And the retailer is not going to waste a nanosecond pumping out the little blue boxes smudged with white clouds that it will sell for about $ 90 apiece.

Computer City's 83 locations, including a store in Garden City, will stay open until 2 a.m. tomorrow, offering discounts, free trinkets and finger food. Tomorrow afternoon, the stores will beam in Microsoft's Gates as he makes a speech inaugurating the new product.

Similar events are planned by CompUSA, Office Depot and others.

"We will have so much traffic in our stores, it will spill over into other products, including computers and memory," said Laurie Levy, a spokeswoman for CompUSA in Dallas, whose 86 stores, including ones in Garden City and Hauppauge, will stay open for 95 minutes after midnight tonight. "It's going to be Christmas in August."

Many analysts agree.

The first copy of Windows 95 was to change hands this morning in New Zealand, the first country across the international date line where Windows will be sold, in an event that was to be documented by CNN.

By the end of the day, between 8 million and 11 million copies will be sold around the world, according to Rob Enderle, senior analyst at Dataquest in San Jose, Calif. That's about a third of all sales expected for 1995. By the end of next year, he predicts, Microsoft will have peddled 63 million copies.

Windows 95 will even be for sale at some places that don't usually sell software. Tower Records, for example, will display the product as prominently as a new compact disc.

"Hopefully, when customers walk in for Van Morrison or Hootie & the Blowfish they may say, 'Hey, maybe I'll get my Windows 95 while I'm here,' " said Michael Tannen, general manager of the company's Huntington Station store.

DOS and the current version of Windows operate about 80 percent of the world's computers, and this is the first time the company has upgraded the program since 1990. Microsoft says the new operating system will make it easier for novices to use personal computers and will unleash the computing power of the latest PCs.

"What we've seen is an awakening of the consumer computer user," said Peter Krasilovsky, senior analyst at Arlen Communications in Bethesda, Md. "Previously, when you launched a new product, it was heavily oriented toward businesses. Now, with 30 percent of American households owning PCs, you'll see those numbers switched."

There's more than simple demographics at play. There's also Microsoft's marketing money and that of all the retailers who believe Windows 95 will fan sales of applications software, disk drives, faster modems, memory, accelerator cards and other products designed to exploit the system's advanced features. (Many consumers are also expected to trade up to more powerful computers with Windows 95 pre-installed.)

Microsoft has invested $ 200 million to $ 250 million to promote the product, according to Enderle. And that number will be matched, he said, by the retailers.

"This is the biggest rollout of a consumer product ever, in terms of aggressive marketing strategy," he says. "All the hype is causing me to have nightmares about Windows 95."

And the party has only just begun.

Microsoft's shindig tomorrow, called "Geekfest 95" by some of its employees, will be beamed to 30 other shindigs around the globe. The main event is expected to draw 2,500 people.

At the Renaissance Washington Hotel in the nation's capital, several thousand guests will play three-dimensional pinball on machines running Windows 95.

The product will be ushered into the United Kingdom with a film premier-theme party. And next week, Gates will begin a monthlong trip around Britain called the "Start Me Up" tour, named for the Rolling Stones song Microsoft has purchased the rights to.

The hoopla is already paying off. Hundreds of thousands of copies have already been pre-ordered through computer stores. In one day, QVC Inc.'s home shopping network reported taking orders for 12,000. Office Depot says it took 10,000.

To spur reservations, CompUSA offered $ 95 off an American Airlines ticket. Computer City joined with MCI to offer $ 90 off long-distance bills.

"I can tell already it's going to be a feeding frenzy," said Bush of Computer City. "This is like 'Jurassic Park.' "

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