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Originally published January 29, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 29, 2007 at 5:31 PM

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Microsoft aims to wow consumers with Vista marketing campaign

Microsoft is calling for the world's attention today as it launches Windows Vista and Office 2007, new versions of the two products used by millions and responsible for most of the companies profits.

Seattle Times technology reporter

NEW YORK -- Microsoft is calling for the world's attention today as it launches Windows Vista and Office 2007, new versions of the two products used by millions and responsible for most of the company's profits.

Chairman Bill Gates kicked off the day in full salesman mode with a live appearance on "Today," NBC's morning show. NBC and Microsoft jointly operate the MSNBC.com Web site.

"You might say it's a Microsoft world and we're just living in it," co-host Meredith Vieira said, introducing the segment.

"We've really listened to users and tackled exactly what they wanted," Gates said, raising the themes of user feedback and broad participation in testing Vista that Microsoft and its partners will likely repeat throughout the day.

In Times Square, the center of the media universe, Microsoft has planned a launch party this afternoon.

But no ordinary billboard would do on the day the company formally kicks off what promises to be an extended, global marketing campaign costing hundreds of millions of dollars -- though Microsoft has not detailed a budget.

In one of several scripted "wow" moments -- keeping with Microsoft's "the wow starts now" slogan -- a troupe of performers is scheduled to create a "human billboard" at the New York Terminal Building on 27th Street.

Microsoft is bringing major star power to the effort, launching TV commercials for Vista featuring 22-year-old NBA star LeBron James. Closer to the company's Redmond headquarters, Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander is scheduled to appear at a Best Buy store in Bellevue tonight to hawk the products.

Other activities are planned at stores around the world. Gates said the products will be available Tuesday in more than 30,000 locations.

Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer was joined by executives from major Microsoft partners, including Dell and Hewelett-Packard, to further extol Vista to journalists and industry analysts in New York at Cipriani, a cavernous banquet hall with 60-foot ceilings, marble columns and heavy curtains.

He was asked again if there's a date planned for releasing a Vista service pack. Clearly annoyed after having received the same question two months ago at a launch event for the business version of the software, he boomed out, "No!"

"The goal, of course, is not to need one, so the answer is no, but if we need one, we'll do one," Ballmer said.

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Asked whether Vista, which requires more powerful hardware to shine than did Windows XP, would result in an increase in the average price of a PC, some hardware makers on the panel acknowledged it would. Ballmer noted that price isn't the only factor, however.

"Consumers are very keen to buy things that they see value in, and it's not all about price point," he said. "Certainly what we all see today is a shift to notebooks from desktops. Notebooks are inevitably more expensive than the equivalent desktop model."

That bodes well for Microsoft's aim to sell more higher-end editions of Vista. Of Microsoft's three flavors of Vista targeted at consumers, the least expensive -- Vista Home Basic -- is the only one that isn't marketed as "the best choice for laptops."

Gates appearance on the "Today" show preceded a string of back-to-back print interviews. He was scheduled to cap off the day with a visit to Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

He talked about Vista's enhanced security -- calling it "the most advanced operating system for security ever done" -- and focused a lot of attention on parental controls. He noted that the built-in feature allows him to control when his 7-year-old son gets on the computer and monitor his 10-year-old daughter's activities on the Internet.

Gates and Microsoft are pushing a message about Vista that might be shorthanded, "Wow, thanks a million."

The company is emphasizing the contributions made by "millions of people -- Microsoft employees, developers, valued customers, bloggers, families, media, the entire industry." Gates said on "Today" that consumers need not wait a few months to go buy Vista to see how well it's going to work, as Vieira suggested in a question.

More than 5 million people have tested Vista and Office 2007, Gates said.

"We've gotten incredible feedback from them, so no one needs to think that they're a pioneer," he said. "With those 5 million users, we've listened to the feedback, we've gotten it right based on all the things that they do."

Benjamin J. Romano: 206-464-2149 or bromano@seattletimes.com

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