Microsoft: Truth and consequences?

When it comes to talking about Win 2000, MS would make George Orwell proud.

When it comes to mastering the finer points of Newspeak, George Orwell can't hold a candle to the good folks at Microsoft.

And that's no inconsiderable achievement, considering how the late, great English author invented this topsy-turvy lexicon where war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength.

For good measure, he should have added, "Windows 2000 will ship on time."

Which it won't, of course -- a fact finally acknowledged by Microsoft late Tuesday when it committed to a launch date of Feb. 17, 2000.

So, why the big deal about publicly setting a release date -- this month, that month; what difference does it make in the grand computing cosmos? A lot, actually. But more about that later.

Lies, damn lies and statistics
In Redmond, the spin machine has been doing its darned best (worst?) to camouflage the fact that Windows 2000 was way late. When insiders and people close to the project would tip off the press to delays in the project, Microsoft's flak catchers mobilized to protest. Their job was made all the more interesting by the propensity of company executives to shoot off their mouths about the imminent release of this massive upgrade.

For starters, consider statements by the company's No. 2 executive.

In June 1997, Steve Ballmer said Microsoft would release Windows 2000 (then called Windows NT) "about a year from now."

Twelve months came and went and no such luck.

"I really think we're going to hit the beginning part of next year for releasing NT 5.0," Ballmer said in June 1998.

Another pipe dream.

By March of this year, Ballmer, fresh from his official anointment as first among equals in the executive suite (behind Bill Gates), said Microsoft would not be "afraid to delay a product release to fix bugs or ensure stability."

That studied ambiguity followed the company's inability to smooth out lingering quality issues. What would be the sense of rushing out the product before it was bullet proof? Saving face was less important than making sure customers didn't get stuck with a bug-ridden piece of expensive software.

Still, Microsoft never officially admitted the product was ever late. Hey, it never officially set a date so how could Windows 2000 ever be officially late? As recently as two weeks ago, one of the company's PR apparatchiks refused to "confirm or deny" that the product was indeed late to market.

It was a verbal circumlocution that would have made Orwell quite proud. But a bigger business interest lurks behind the company's seemingly congenital refusal to tell the truth about Windows 2000. What with the phenomenal emergence of Linux and the resurgence of Novell under Eric Schmidt, it's vital for Microsoft to send the right message to customers and shareholders alike.

It's a page from a dog-eared playbook. When Microsoft fell behind schedule, the brass would regularly look to snow the market about ship dates that never had a snowball's chance. With Janet Reno's Justice Department now in its face, Microsoft has had to more closely hug mid air about Windows 2000. Not that the new world order has done much to encourage straight talk. But it has led to some inspired thinking in Redmond about what constitutes smart public relations.

Let me know what you think about Microsoft's Windows 2000 marketing in the TalkBack below.


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