The software giant has a huge budget with which to promote its new OS to consumers. PC Advisor hunkers down for the onslaught

This article appears as part of the April 07 issue of PC Advisor, available now in all good newsagents

Microsoft plans to spend $500m in 20 countries to market Vista. According to Advertising Age, the software giant will place advertising in various forms of media totalling 6.6 billion impressions – enough ads, in theory, to hit every single person on the planet today.

"I am sure we will be inundated by Vista ads, especially on the web," said Chris Swenson, a software market analyst at The NPD Group. The company's media-saturation strategy may seem like overkill, but according to a Forrester Research survey, as late as December, more than 60 percent of consumers had not even heard of Vista.

Microsoft isn't looking to convince consumers that Vista is fun, as it did with the XBox, or sexy like the Zune, or even simply fresh, as it did with Windows 95.

"In hindsight, Windows 95 was flaky, but there was so much pent-up demand and Windows 95 was such a big improvement [over Windows 3.1] that it really was a paradigm shift," said Gartner analyst Michael Silver. "Today, you're more likely to see that sort of excitement over a cell phone."

Much of this marketing spend will benefit PC partners such as HP or Dell. According to Microsoft's own figures, about 80 percent of consumers will get Vista preinstalled when they buy new PCs. And while online sales and downloads continue to grow, the majority of Vista's sales will continue to be through bricks-and-mortar stores, according to Forrester analyst JP Gownder. That's because those environments tend to show off Vista's features to better effect.

Playing catch up?

Moreover, he noted that many of Vista's consumer features "are just catching up to Apple OS X". He said that a killer application for Vista has yet to emerge. Vista and Office 2007 "is not a 'better-together' story", Silver said. "Office 2007 will run on XP fine."

Silver agreed with other analysts that – despite the trendiness of Ubuntu Linux, the competence of Novell's Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop and the resurgence of the Mac platform – Vista's main competition is its own predecessor, XP. Microsoft "has millions of people on XP that are happy with their computing experience", Swenson said. "They need to do everything possible to convince consumers to upgrade."

That includes talking up Vista's flashier features and touting under-the-hood improvements, such as improved security, without "badmouthing" XP, said Swenson.

How successful will Microsoft be? Early indications based on launch-week sales are so far mixed, but the true marketing deluge has yet to begin. Watch this space.