MICROSOFT READY TO OPEN WINDOWS 95 WITH A BLAST

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LAS VEGAS-Microsoft Corp. will face Windows of opportunity in '95, and it's preparing the biggest product introduction campaign in the history of software.

"We expect that if you're breathing somewhere around the world, you will get our message," said Brad Silverberg, a Microsoft senior VP.

Windows 95 is the anointed successor to Windows 3.0/3.1, the world's dominant personal computer operating systems since 1990.

For good reason, Windows 95 was the hottest topic at Comdex/Fall '94, the computer industry's big show that drew nearly 200,000 people here last week. New operating systems can lead to dramatic changes in PC software and computer market shares, as companies make high-stake bets on where the market is moving.

Microsoft's marketing plans are still being prepared, but the integrated campaign will include TV as well as print, direct mail and store promotions. The effort will mesh with the new global branding campaign from Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore. (AA, Nov. 14).

"Microsoft will make a drowning cacophony around `Win 95,'*" said Charles Hamlin, VP-corporate marketing at Lotus Development Corp.

Conventional wisdom is that Windows 95 will take off and that Microsoft will be the first to offer applications like word processors designed for the new operating system. That will allow the industry giant to extend its lead in the lucrative applications market.

"We'll be the first car behind the engine," said Robbie Bach, group product manager for Microsoft Office, the company's top-selling application line.

Mr. Hamlin is quick to add that he'll be the second car. Like other companies that were late in the shift to Windows 3.0 a few years ago, Lotus is moving hastily not to miss this train.

Microsoft accounted for 38% of applications sales in the first half of 1994, three times the level of No. 2 Lotus, estimates Dataquest, a San Jose, Calif., market researcher, and the company intends to build on its lead position in both operating systems and applications.

The market is "theirs for the asking," said Michael Kwatinetz, senior VP and industry analyst at PaineWebber, New York.

For now, Microsoft is in the enviable position of having a perfect software product: One that isn't on the market.

Microsoft Chairman-CEO Bill Gates said he is "fairly confident" Microsoft will release Windows 95 in the first half. But the company has missed some earlier deadlines for the product. And most observers agree sales of the new model won't overtake the old Windows till 1996.

Windows 95 still faces major hurdles, including releasing a bug-free product and convincing buyers of that fact. Meanwhile, hype over the product may have overlooked a key point: The new software doesn't at first glance look much different from the existing Windows.

"The difference between Windows 95 and Windows [3.1] is not a quantum leap," said David Card, director of software research for International Data Corp., a market researcher in Mountain View, Calif.

If Microsoft trips with Windows 95, IBM Corp. might be in a position to jump in with its heavily promoted alternative, OS/2 Warp, which was very much in presence at Comdex. But Microsoft plans to sell Windows 3.1 alongside the new version, giving it a fallback. And billions have been lost betting against Microsoft in the past.

"These guys could screw up," Mr. Card said, but "not likely."

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