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Originally published January 30, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 30, 2007 at 10:24 AM

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Spanning the globe with word of Vista

Microsoft plastered the media universe with logos for Windows Vista and Office 2007 on Monday to begin a massive worldwide marketing campaign...

Seattle Times technology reporter

NEW YORK -- Microsoft plastered the media universe with logos for Windows Vista and Office 2007 on Monday to begin a massive worldwide marketing campaign for its two biggest products, which officially become widely available today.

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

After back-to-back interviews with other media, Gates threw a big party and capped off his publicity swing on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

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

Microsoft has embarked on an extended, global marketing campaign with a goal of delivering 6.6 billion viewings of Vista ads over the next few months. It's sure to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, though the company has not detailed a budget.

In 2001, the cost of a four-month campaign to promote Vista's predecessor, Windows XP, was reportedly $200 million.

Not since 1995 has Microsoft simultaneously launched new versions of both its flagship products.

The Microsoft divisions responsible for Windows and Office together generated roughly $27.6 billion in revenue in the past fiscal year -- about 62.3 percent of the total for the company -- and $19.9 billion in operating income.

Throughout the day, Microsoft stayed on message. At a launch party for Microsoft partners, media and other guests, Gates and Windows marketing head Mike Sievert extolled Vista's virtues, lumping them into four categories: easier, safer, more entertaining and better connected.

Another theme: Vista, the much-delayed new version of Windows in development for five-plus years, is more than just a Microsoft product.

During the party just off Times Square in the Nokia Theater -- renamed the Windows Vista Theater for the day -- Gates thanked beta testers, "Vista Families," hardware makers, Microsoft employees and others who contributed to the product.

"The numbers here are pretty unbelievable," he said. "We've had over 5 million people download copies of Windows Vista and Office 2007. What that means is this is by far the most-tested and highest-quality release that we've ever made."

When time came to flip the switch -- or in this case, press the Vista logo on a touch-screen PC -- it wasn't the PC industry bigwigs who joined Gates and Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer on stage.

The honor went to the Regan family of Germantown, Md., one of 50 "Vista Families" who have been playing with the software and giving Microsoft feedback the past two years.

Gates handed the Regans a signed copy of Windows Vista Ultimate. Then the three children of Chris and Melissa Regan counted down with Ballmer and touched the button.

After that, several of the giant electronic screens in Times Square lit up with a host of Vista and Office logos.

But no ordinary billboard would do on this day.

Earlier, in one of several scripted "wow" moments -- keeping with Microsoft's "The wow starts now" slogan for the launch -- a troupe of performers assembled Vista and Office logos on the side of The Terminal Building in Midtown Manhattan.

Microsoft is bringing major star power to the marketing effort, including NBA star LeBron James, who in one Vista TV commercial is impressed by a little kid's basketball crossover move and says, "Wow."

Closer to the company's Redmond headquarters, Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander was scheduled to appear late Monday night at a Best Buy store in Bellevue.

Earlier Monday in New York, Ballmer and executives from major Microsoft partners, including Dell, Hewelett-Packard, Intel and AMD, talked up the new products to journalists and industry analysts at Cipriani, a cavernous banquet hall with 60-foot ceilings, marble columns and heavy curtains.

Vista, by the numbers

70: Countries in which Vista is available today.

19: Languages the operating system is available in; that will grow to 99 by end of year.

39,000: Retail outlets selling the products worldwide.

1.5 million: Devices compatible with Vista.

5,000: Hardware and software products certified for Vista.

30,000: Device drivers for Vista.

Source: Microsoft

Ballmer was asked if there's a date planned for releasing a Vista service pack. Clearly annoyed after having received that question two months ago at a launch event for Vista's business version, 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.

Vista requires more powerful hardware to shine than Windows XP. Asked whether that would mean an increase in the average price of a PC, some hardware makers on the panel acknowledged it would.

Ballmer noted price wasn'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 not marketed as "the best choice for laptops."

Not everyone is thrilled to see Vista making the scene.

Peter Brown, executive director of the Free Software Foundation, led a quiet protest outside Cipriani.

The group's chief complaint is what he says is Vista's restrictive digital-rights management system, which controls how music and video content can be distributed. Brown has the same gripe with Apple's iPod.

"We have a lot of concerns ... that's it's really been designed and built for one particular interested party, which is big media," Brown said.

A Microsoft spokesman declined to comment.

Benjamin J. Romano: bromano@seattletimes.com

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