D-DAY COUNTDOWN FOR WIN 95, MICROSOFT NET;INTRO UNLEASHES $250M IN INDUSTRY SPENDING

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Windows 95 is the future. Microsoft Network is the question mark.

The two, too-hyped products will arrive Aug. 24-barring any antitrust intervention-but face differing prospects.

Windows 95 is the no-brainer. The personal-computer operating system, blitzed with an estimated industrywide $250 million in advertising before yearend, will be standard equipment on new home computers and likely will make a slower but sure move into business in the next year.

Analysts bet Microsoft will sell 20 million to 30 million copies of Windows 95 by yearend, primarily from operating system software installed in new PCs. The software to upgrade existing PCs will run $85 to $109 per copy.

The market is primed. A reader survey by Computer Life, a consumer magazine, found more than 60% intend to move to Windows 95 in the next year. And in a survey of the corporate market, Computerworld found 79% of opinion makers who have tested Windows 95 will recommend their companies upgrade.

Windows 95 products-operating system, applications software like Microsoft Office, Microsoft Network-will account for the bulk of Microsoft global ad spending, estimated at $210 million to $310 million for the year that began July 1. Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., and Anderson & Lembke, San Francisco, are the primary agencies.

Microsoft will run a massive TV and print campaign starting with the launch. Computer industry marketers and retailers will field their own major campaigns.

"This is going to be a major advance in the personal computer industry," said Gordon Eubanks, president of software marketer Symantec Corp. "It would seem illogical to believe that only one company can benefit from a change in a major operating system."

Symantec is running a big co-op ad push as well as a print campaign from Goldberg Moser O'Neill, San Francisco, and will have new Windows 95-related products to capture the massive traffic the Microsoft launch is expected to generate.

"We don't see any downside for us," said Jim Garrity, VP-communications at Compaq Computer Corp., which will run ads explaining its official designation as Windows 95 "Lead Systems Partner." "The upside is faster adoption through all of our target audiences should lead to hardware upgrades that should benefit us greatly."

Of the 200 million PCs now in use globally, just 39% have enough horsepower to run Windows 95.

While Windows 95 is a finished product, the much-debated MSN is just getting started.

When consumers click Windows 95's MSN on-screen icon on Day 1, they may be disappointed by the lack of content compared with established services like America Online.

America Online, CompuServe and Prodigy Services Co., hoping to convince the Justice Department that distribution gives Microsoft an unfair advantage, have become MSN's biggest promoters, claiming MSN will grab 11 million to 19 million subscribers in the first year. Microsoft insists it would be happy with 1 million customers in a year.

Rivals are bracing for MSN. Last week, Prodigy introduced a friendlier interface, while CompuServe announced lower prices and plans for a new consumer-oriented service-based on Windows 95.

George Meng, MSN lead product manager, said MSN is ready for prime time. "Expectations for MSN have been set super high," he added, "and it's almost impossible to deliver on all of those expectations on Day 1."

Bottom line: MSN is not preordained to rule online. Said America Online Services Co. President Ted Leonsis: "Consumers will decide."

Contributing to this story: Jeanne Whalen, Debra Aho Williamson and Jeffery D. Zbar.

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