Within an economy in the swamp, in a world where terrorists abuse the most basic tenets of the civilized world and in a city that needed some good news, Microsoft was able to turn a product launch for a new operating system into something grander last week in New York. The product, Windows XP, is a decent, fairly stable operating system that finally does away with most of the baggage of previous Windows generations. The host was Bill Gates, an exec who certainly doesnt need the money but is still unable to contain his enthusiasm for new software. But when the software and exec came together following a choir singing "America the Beautiful" and an onstage thanks from New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, even a crowd that has probably seen more product introductions than sunrises was moved.
Maybe it was simply a confluence of events that made it an opportune time for the launch of an operating system to become more of a symbol that the high-tech industry is fundamental to the well-being of the United States. Maybe it was simply a lot of people looking for some good news in a dour time. Whatever it was, this time, the grand statements about using technology to restart an economy seemed less forced. The jokes seemed funny, rather than stilted and staged. And having a product launch with a choir singing a heartfelt anthem seemed appropriate.
The tragic events are too well known. New York and the nation still reel from the Sept. 11 attacks and the continued biological attacks. While it would have been understandable for Microsoft to move the launch location or hold an introduction via the Internet, the decision to go ahead with a launch in the city most devastated by the attacks may go down as the best decision the Microsoft executive team has made. As Giuliani told Gates, the product introduction "couldnt have come at a better time."
The technical events are less well known. The robustness of the technical infrastructure has been one of the strongest but most muted stories around. The Twin Towers were destroyed, but the companies in those towers were up and running the next day. Business travel declined drastically, but audio and videoconferences have proved capable of filling the gap. Physical mail is now suspect, but the e-mail system is robust, and the need to turn e-mail from a boring text medium to a robust multimedia product that can do more than any physical mail could hope is now available.
The economic reminders are with us every day in massive layoffs, staggering company losses and the broken promises of a new economy. The PC community needed a new product around which it could rally. When that product—maybe for the first time—actually addresses user frustration over security, ease of use and stability, it is no wonder you can get rivals such as Michael Dell and Michael Capellas harmoniously on stage. Cynics can contend XP is only a bunch of code produced by a monopoly. But sometimes that code can become something much grander, and that happened last week in New York.