Windows XP suffers fate of unfortunate timing

Well you can add Microsoft to the long list of millions pissed off with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. The release of Windows XP on October 25th, arguably the biggest Microsoft launch ever, not only seems trivial when compared to recent world events, it may have a hard time getting any meaningful news coverage, something XP desperately needs if the new OS is to grab the attention of consumers and businesses the world over.

Though many people love to see Microsoft take a few hits below the belt, this is one time the company might get a tinge of sympathy. Releasing a new operating system, especially one with as many fundamental changes as XP, takes years of development. There is no way Microsoft could have predicted the present state of the economy back when XP was in its infancy. Since Microsoft has a history of delayed OS releases there was no other option but to keep the release date, not to mention the undesired possibility of being perceived as cowed by the events of September 11th were it to push the launch back.

But how is all of this going to affect Microsoft in the long term? As people, Americans in particular, face a prolonged state of uncertainly it is difficult to predict how the economy will react. Up until the attacks, the American economy was showing faint signs of recovering. Now economists speak of a recession as no longer a possibility, but rather a certainty.

There is, however limited, a chance the launch of XP could become a rallying point for the technology industry as a whole. There is no question Microsoft is not alone in hoping for XP’s success. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent promoting the launch. Companies such as Intel, with the new Pentium 4, Dell, IBM and Compaq could all use a boost in increased spending on new PCs. Usually a new Windows release goes hand in hand with increased PC sales – but analysts are unsure it will happen until later in 2002, a time by which XP will have lost a lot of its lustre.

Needless to say, Microsoft needs Windows XP to be a hit. Operating systems are a big chunk of the corporate pie. Though Microsoft’s overall revenues were up for fiscal 2001 ending in June, a failure of XP to catch on could severely hamstring the company. Microsoft has been relatively immune to the economic downturn that has brutalized the technology sector as a whole but if XP is a relative dud, in part due to events far outside Microsoft’s control, the repercussion could be felt far and wide. Microsoft is, after all, a very big fish in the corporate pond.

Consumer confidence is particularly fragile right now but Americans, and to a lesser extent Canadians, are an eternally optimistic lot, and the United States is the only country capable of single-handedly turning the global economic tide.

If there is a nation capable of spending its way out of a recession, with millions of individuals willing to max out their credit cards to piss off a bunch of terrorists trying to ruin their way of life, it is the U.S.

Microsoft and thousands of technology companies – economically some of the hardest hit in the past 12 months – certainly hope so.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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