Inside Microsoft's Big Launch Plans for Windows 8

Between now and July 2013, Microsoft expects 400 million people worldwide to be using Windows 8. And how will it get there? Popup stores, free Wi-Fi, and the sexy Surface tablet.

Microsoft revealed Tuesday that it plans to open two new pop-up stores in high-profile locations; New York City’s Times Square, and the Shops at North Bridge in Chicago. At press time, that means that a total of 34 holiday stores will be set up and begin selling “curated” Microsoft products on Oct. 26, including in Atlanta, Denver, Las Vegas, San Francisco, St. Louis and Pittsburgh, to name just a few locations. Microsoft lists 28 permanent Microsoft Stores as well, although some are still in the planning stages.

Free Wi-Fi For All

Microsoft also said that the company would sponsor free Boingo Wi-Fi at select locations in New York City and San Francisco, a tactic that Google has successfully used to promote its Google Offers and related services. The hotspots will include Union Square, Fisherman's Wharf, UN Plaza, the Financial District and Nob Hill in San Francisco, plus 200 locations scattered around Manhattan.  The Wi-Fi sponsorship is part of the launch celebration for Windows 8, and will introduce the new Windows Store for Windows 8 to the app builder community, Microsoft said.

Microsoft hasn’t said much about what it plans to actually sell at its pop-up stores, but it’s a sure bet that it plans to show off the Surface tablet, both its full-fledged “professional” version as well as the cheaper Surface RT. Reviewers have had a chance to briefly play around with the Surface, and we've seen more new Windows 8 hardware from Microsoft's partners, including the recent Clover Trail-based Atom tablets using Intel's latest chips. 

Microsoft still hasn’t revealed the price of the Surface tablet, of course, something that is becoming increasingly puzzling as the days tick down closer to launch.

It will be interesting to see which tablets Microsoft highlights in its stores. The cheaper Windows RT  version of Surface aimed at consumers? The more expensive, professional Surface that maintains Windows 8 and backwards app compatibility? Or a collection of partner hardware?

Microsoft has sent out invitations to an Oct. 29 launch for Windows Phone, so we should expect to see that hardware added by the end of the month. (Will Microsoft shows Windows Phone 7 hardware until then? Or will we see a secretive “Coming Soon” display? If I were Microsoft, I’d go with the latter.) 

And, of course, there’s the new version of Microsoft Office, available in the new Office 365 subscription plans, too. And what about Xbox?

Microsoft Tips Its Windows 8 Sales Plans

How much bounce is Microsoft expecting from the Windows 8 launch? According to a surprisingly unguarded interview with Keith Lorizio, vice president of U.S. sales and marketing for Microsoft, by Beet.tv, Microsoft expects 400 million Windows 8 users to sign on by July 2013. The company also expects to have 100,000 apps in its Windows Store app store.

“We’re expecting to aggressively pursue over 100,000 apps over the first three months,” Lorizio says in the interview. “Now as soon as Windows 8 goes live on Oct. 26, the marketplace - the available marketplace - is a billion plus consumers. And in order to reach our goal, which is a conservative estimate of 400 million units in marketplace by July 1, we know that we have to have a very very healthy ecosystem of apps. And we’re putting millions of dollars against that effort and working with publishers to get their apps live as quickly as possible.”

Windows 8 will be a “guaranteed success” because of three things, Lorizio said:

  1. Its massive distribution.
  2. The “same experience across all devices in the Microsoft family,” PC, Xbox, and phone.
  3. Beautiful, relevant and useful integrated ads that won’t be disruptive. (Trust an ad guy to say that.) 

Microsoft has already said that it expects to defer between $1.0 billion and $1.2 billion to fund its Windows upgrade offer, where consumers can buy a PC with Windows 7 now and then upgrade for just $40 between the launch and Feb. 28, 2013. Microsoft has also said that it expects Windows revenue for the remainder of the year to be in line with the PC market, code for an expectation that virtually every new PC is going to ship with Windows 8. So far, Microsoft’s remaining mum on its Surface outlook.

Like every launch out of Redmond, Windows 8 will be the biggest ever. Bet on it. Microsoft is.