AirAsia rolls out Vista 'gadget'

New software tool brings travel deals from the budget airline onto the desktops of Windows Vista users.

SINGAPORE--Budget carrier AirAsia is now pushing live travel information and other Web-based services directly to potential customers, specifically, those running Windows Vista on their desktops.

Speaking to ZDNet Asia in a phone interview today, AirAsia commercial executive vice president Kathleen Tan said the airline is latching on "gadget", a tool that sits on the new Windows Vista sidebar, to enable customers to view the latest airfare promotions based on their preferred destinations without logging on to the company's Web site.

Similar to widgets found in Apple's Mac OS X operating system, Microsoft's Windows Vista gadgets are small applications that support anything from live news feeds and world clocks, to Sudoku games and Web cameras.

Yesterday, Microsoft kickstarted a series of Windows Vista and Office 2007 launches across the Asia-Pacific region. In India, for example, more than 70 children from non-government organization Chetna, performed a dance to unveil the Windows Vista logo against the backdrop of the Taj Mahal.

Established in 2001, Tan said, AirAsia is a young airline that is still in the midst of establishing its brand name in the region. The Vista gadget, she added, will allow AirAsia to create greater brand awareness among customers, while supplementing its existing marketing channels through its Web site, print media and e-mail lists.

"The Internet, when we first started, was part of our vision to be a technological leader in the aviation industry," Tan said. "Although online bookings only made up 15 percent of our total bookings initially, the numbers started to grow through aggressive marketing."

She added that "embracing new technology" has always been a part of AirAsia. Currently, its customers are able to book tickets via their cell phones over the Web.

"We have been looking at technologies that fit our business model, as well as creative market and distribution channels," Tan said. "When Microsoft approached us about the gadget, it was already something we always wanted to do."

In fact, the airline's Malaysia-based independent software vendor (ISV), The Media Shoppe (TMS) developed a desktop alert tool similar to the AirAsia gadget. The project was eventually canned because the tool--with a file size of several megabytes--was too big for customers to bear, according to TMS CEO Chris Chan.

The Windows Vista gadget, however, is only more than a hundred kilobytes in size, Chan said. He added that the gadget was developed in less than a week, and allows AirAsia to gather customer preferences that are useful in targeted marketing campaigns. TMS also developed the carrier's airline management system that includes a customer online booking portal, he said.

Although Chan admitted that there are not many Windows Vista users in the market today, he said "ultimately all Windows machines will be running Vista".

AirAsia's Tan added: "For anything that's newly launched, we need to give it time [to gain adoption]."

For now, she said, AirAsia is not setting any marketing targets for the gadget. Nonetheless, the airline will promote the new tool to its base of 1 million customers through its Web site and mailing lists from today, she added.

To entice Vista users to download the AirAsia gadget, Tan said the company plans to offer exclusive travel deals to customers.

Dilip Mistry, general manager for developer platform evangelism at Microsoft Asia-Pacific, said Vista's gadgets allow content providers and businesses to deliver personalized information and tools directly to user desktops--without going through a Web browser.

According to Mistry, there are more than 100 gadgets which have been developed in the Asia-Pacific region so far. In a statement Tuesday, Microsoft said Windows Vista and the 2007 Office system have enjoyed early success in the region since the software were commercially available to business customers in November 2006.

The software behemoth said over 140 companies across the Asia-Pacific region are early adopters of Windows Vista and Office 2007. They include the Beca Group in New Zealand, Telstra in Australia, Borneo Motors in Singapore and Lotte Data Communications in South Korea.

More than 265 ISVs in the region, such as MyBiz in Malaysia, Brookstone in Australia and Huelal in Singapore, have committed to rolling out Vista-enabled applications within six months of the OS launch, according to Microsoft.

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