After months of buzz and teaser ads promoting Windows 7, Microsoft finally unleashed the new operating system today, with a full-court press (big emphasis on the press): a "launch party" in New York City hosted by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
AdAge loves a party, but we're not used to the kind that start at 10:30 in the morning. Unlike some of Microsoft's glitzy, over-the-top soirees of the past, this affair was decidedly buttoned-up, bearing all the qualities of a carefully-crafted PR event.
It invited hundreds of journalists to Skylight Studios in downtown Manhattan. Microsoft outfitted the space in spare décor -- a sea of white curtains and glass tables, with splashes of color from the bright blue neon lights and paintings of anime art hanging on the walls (we're guessing these were some of the desktop designs it tasked ad agency 72andSunny to create).
While waiting for the main event, journos and Microsoft staffers (or, as their name badges stated, Microsoft "Crew") mingled, sipped coffee and nibbled on biscotti. There was a bit of booze on hand; some bottles of bubbly at the back of a juice bar, for those who wanted a mimosa.
The roughly two-hour press conference, er, "party," kicked off with Microsoft's new and very tiny spokesperson, Kylie, taking the stage to introduce a sports-jacket-and-khakis-clad Mr. Ballmer. She joked that he was late, and in return for poking fun of the head of a multibillion dollar company, the cute five-year old was gifted a special pink PC.
"I'm Steve Ballmer and I'm a Windows 7 PC," he proclaimed. It was a nod, of course, to the software giant's ongoing ad campaign from agency Crispin Porter & Boguksy.
Standing in front of a wall of flat-screen computers and TVs, Mr. Ballmer thanked beta-test users and customers for helping the product come to fruition. He noted that Microsoft's engineers during the process had created a "wishing wall" on which they physically posted feedback from consumers and tech experts about how to improve Windows 7.
In his remarks, Mr. Ballmer repeatedly stressed two themes: the simplicity of the new OS, and the notion of Windows offering something-for-everyone -- from a "road warrior" like him, who likes wireless features, to teenagers, like his three sons, who like gaming features.
Mr. Ballmer then introduced Brad Brooks, Microsoft's corporate VP-consumer marketing and product management, who was met with a roar of cheers when he asked: "Alright everyone. Who wants to see a little Windows 7?" Wearing a headpiece, he bounded around the stage, from screen to screen, demonstrating a litany of product features like the Windows Live Movie Maker and Windows 7 MultiTouch. He also announced probably the coolest news of the day, Amazon's release of a new Kindle application for Windows that among other things allows for color photos and text resizing.
Mr. Brooks at one point in his presentation lingered on a recorded clip of "Family Guy," which Microsoft signed a branded deal with. In it, we saw the character Stewie furiously typing away on a laptop.
Throughout the event, the vibe drifted somewhere between a political rally and infomercial, with Microsoft's product executives playing the part of Vince Shlomi and the PC's the part of the Slap-Chop.
Microsoft closed the morning by dramatically parting the curtains on a second stage. Reminiscent of an Ikea, the stage was a series of rooms in a home -- office, game room and even kitchen -- that were outfitted with PCs everywhere, from TVs to computers and digital picture frames. Mr. Ballmer took a stroll around, followed by cameras, and invited journalists to come and explore Windows 7. With that and a "this is an important day in for the computer industry, and for Microsoft," it was over.