Marketing campaign for Vista high-steps it in New York

update NEW YORK–Microsoft wrapped up development of Windows Vista three months ago, but the company’s marketing machine is just kicking into high gear.

The company began two days of events with an aerial dance performance in Manhattan’s West Chelsea neighborhood, a district once known for industrial warehouses but now more notable for its avant-garde art galleries. But the wind chill made conditions notably uncomfortable.

Aerial dancers

“Frostbite sure is an occupational hazard today,” said a camera operator who was part of the sizeable audience of press, guests and Vista beta testers who braved the cold to watch the human billboard. Sixteen aerial dancers clad in colorful spandex bodysuits dangled from bungee cords to form the Vista and Office 2007 logos on the side of the Terminal Building.

With more than five years having elapsed since Windows XP was released, Microsoft is pulling out all the stops for Vista, which goes on sale to consumers at midnight, along with Office 2007. (Both products were released for large businesses in November.)

The festivities moved indoors for a midday lunch at the trendy Cipriani restaurant, where Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer toasted the launch along with executives from some of the largest hardware companies.

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Ballmer said he expects initial sales of Vista to be five times what they were with Windows 95. “We’ll probably go double what we did with XP,” he said.

Dell CEO Kevin Rollins said his company saw a 20 percent increase in traffic to its Web site this past weekend, as it started taking orders for Vista-based systems. “We sold tens of thousands of copies (of Vista) this first weekend,” Rollins said.

Later, Ballmer and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates hosted a party in Times Square to celebrate the release, inviting beta testers from the greater New York area to join in the festivities.

“Five million people helped guide us and tell us it was ready to go. This is our chance to thank them,” Gates told CNET News.com in interview Monday.

Onstage, Gates noted that it was in New York in 1983 that the company committed to Windows and the graphical user interface.

The machines could barely keep up (with) displaying the text,” he said. “Windows could barely fit in memory.”

But Microsoft was convinced that Windows would open plenty of doors. “That was our bet, that not only could we do fantastic things with Windows but it would become the platform that the software industry would build on.”

Gates returned to the United States from Europe long enough to do a spate of interviews, including the Today Show and The Daily Show, before heading back to the United Kingdom, where he will attend a London event and the company’s Government Leaders Forum in Scotland.

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