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December 2001
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President's Corner

Bill Gates' Bite of the Big Apple

By Richard E. Peck

Photo by Richard E. Peck
Microsoft Corp. chair and chief software architect Bill Gates in Times Square.
ON OCTOBER 25th, Microsoft Corp. chair and chief software architect Bill Gates played tourist in New York City -- and launched the company's new operating system, Windows XP.

The Big Apple inauguration began at 9 a.m. at the Marriott Marquis Theatre, with a media-only briefing with Gates and a stage full of high tech chieftains, including Carleton (Carly) Fiornia from Hewlett-Packard Co., Michael Capellas of Compaq Computer Corp., Ted Waitt of Gateway Inc., Craig Barrett of Intel Corp., Keiji Kimura of Sony Corp., Tom Stemberg of Staples Inc., Atsutoshi Nishida of Toshiba Inc., and Michael Dell of Dell Computer Corp.

New York Gov. George Pataki offered introductions, then the group spent an hour fielding questions about Windows XP and pledging solidarity to try to boost the sagging economy.

The new operating system, which comes in two editions (professional and home), runs entirely independent of the MS-DOS product, said Gates. New architecture speeds start-ups and helps third-party developers build complex applications, he explained. (Like Apple Computer Inc.'s new OS X, Microsoft's XP especially targets music and digital photography applications.)

The Love Fest

After an intermission, the theater was transformed for Gates' keynote address. As is typical of these events, music blared (including Madonna's "Ray of Light," which Microsoft licensed for an undisclosed fee as the XP theme song), and flashing, colored lights panned the near-capacity crowd of about 1,500.

There's only one place to launch Windows XP, and that's right here in the heart of New York City.

-Bill Gates

At 10:30 a.m., Gates guaranteed an uproarious reception by walking on stage with New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Then began the love fest: Guiliani thanked Gates for choosing the Big Apple for the launch. "It shows a tremendous amount of confidence in the city of New York and it shows the exact spirit that Americans have, which is in part a spirit of defiance and in particular a spirit of confidence," said the mayor, also thanking Gates for Microsoft's help in re-establishing a command center downtown, immediately following the World Trade Center disaster.

Gates reciprocated. "There's only one place to launch Windows XP, and that's right here in the heart of New York City," said Gates. He thanked "all the people of New York City for welcoming us here, to congratulate them for their unbroken spirit, courage and determination, and to urge all Americans to join us in recognizing that New York is absolutely open for business."

After initial remarks (and playing a mini- version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire with Regis Philbin), Gates yielded the stage to product manager Joe Belfiore, and "snuck outside" into Times Square (with camera crew, of course). He hopped into a cab and rode about one block to Starbucks, where he "just happened" to bump into former New York City Mayor Ed Koch. The pair demo'd XP's wireless "Windows Messenger" feature, chatting with none other than Starbucks chair Howard Schultz (who was at an undisclosed location, but we'll guess, Seattle). Gates sipped hot chocolate.

Next stop: Across the street to the humongous Virgin Megastore, where Times Square fixture Dick Clark "just happened" to be milling around. Of course, this presented an opportunity to demo the new XP-powered preview system for music, movies, and video games.

Then back to the Marriott, but not before some "spontaneous" photo opportunities just south of the theater. (There "just happened" to be a riser at the site so that Gates, not exactly tall, could be seen above the crowd). Clutching an XP box, and dressed in logoware, Gates mugged for photographers, while motorists slowed to rubberneck. (Not everybody was exactly clear about who Gates was or why he was generating attention. "Some guy wrote a book," one woman speculated to a curious bystander.)

Around noon, the Marriott ceremonies concluded, and the assembly was instructed to make its way to nearby Bryant Park, for a little concert. No, not Madonna, but certainly no second fiddle: Microsoft enlisted Sting and entourage, who performed for an hour to an enthusiastic crowd of about 5,000. (Concertgoers received XP-branded umbrellas.)

All told, not a bad launch. Of course, there's a price tag for all this excitement. Microsoft, chipmaker Intel Corp., and PC makers are expected to spend a combined total of more than $1 billion to market XP, reports c/net. Just watch TV for an hour and you are sure to see at least one of the ubiquitous XP ads. And they've done O.K. on product placement: Gates finagled his way onto the 200th episode of Frasier in a cameo that, of course, managed to include references to XP.

Worth it? Well, on November 10 -- barely two weeks after launch -- Gates gave another keynote address, this time in Las Vegas, at the annual Comdex technology convention, where he reported that seven million copies had been sold. And with more than 400 million people using Windows software every day, it's likely that a few more copies will fly off the shelves.

Richard E. Peck is assistant editor of Law Technology News.

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