Will Microsoft follow Apple and revert to its former disclosure playbook?

Apple is trying a 'new' disclosure tact with its latest Mac OS X release. Will Microsoft follow suit with Windows, going forward?
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Warning: This is an insider baseball kind of post. But I'm writing it because I believe disclosure policies have a lot to do with perception and reception of products from Microsoft and other companies.

Much is being made of how Apple decided to "think different" in how it disclosed information about its "Mountain Lion" Mac OS X update on February 16. Instead of holding the typical, orchestrated "big reveal," Apple officials hand-picked a few key bloggers and journalists and put them under non-disclosure about its Mountain Lion plans.

Hey, that sounds kind of familiar... as well it should. This is how Microsoft used to disclose information about Windows back in the day. But then, starting with Windows 7 and accelerating with Windows 8, Microsoft started to try to be more like Apple. The hope was that by holding information closer to the vest and then announcing it to the world with a "ta-da!" that Microsoft would get more love, a la Apple.

At Build, where Microsoft unveiled the Windows 8 Developer Preview in September, for example, Microsoft held a one-day prebrief for about 100 select journalists and analysts. All of us who were invited got a 24-hour headstart on dissecting the bits and the background on the Developer Preview. But there weren't the individual, earlier one-on-one Q&A/deep dive meetings beforehand, like the Windows client team used to do with XP, Vista, etc. The day after the media prebrief, Microsoft rolled out the Developer Preview information and bits to the thousands of developers attending Build and watching it via Webcast.

Microsoft is planning its next mass big-reveal on February 29, when it launches the Consumer Preview of Windows 8. Unfortunately, from what I've heard recently, there won't be a live Webcast of this event. So if you weren't already signed up to attend the Mobile World Congress show, you're not going to get to see what transpires there in real time. You'll just have to download the bits whenever they become available.

(By the way, Microsoft is not commenting as to whether the Consumer Preview bits will be out on February 29, before that date, or after that date. I asked. Microsoft also is declining to say whether there will be a "beta" refresh of the Windows Server 8 bits at the same time as the Consumer Preview is out.)

I'm betting Microsoft might hand pick a few reviewers to get the Consumer Preview bits ahead of time, but not because the company is shifting its disclosure strategy. I believe the decision to launch the Consumer Preview in Barcelona was a last-minute decision on Microsoft's part and has resulted in many of the folks who normally review Windows not planning to be in attendance at what's largely a smartphone show.

The bigger question for me in all this is whether the Windows team may follow Apple's PR lead and decide to revert back to its old Windows PR playbook now that Apple seemingly is going the one-on-one prebrief route. I think doing so would make for more informed and thoughtful coverage of what's happening with Windows 8 instead of lots of knee-jerk, under-the-gun write-ups. The bigger question is whether it would give the Softies more bang for their PR buck and generate more developer, customer and partner understanding and excitement?

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