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Getting tough on Chicago.

How fast will Chicago become the dominant version of Windows? After watching Windows NT's sputtering start, the skeptics have been predicting a long and comfortable transition period for Chicago as well. Windows 3.1 is a well-entrenched standard, they point out; the absence of compelling new features (and the likelihood of early-release bugs) should make Chicago a hard sell even for Microsoft.

But the skeptics are almost certainly wrong. This time, Microsoft intends to make users an offer they can't refuse--primarily by flushing virtually all current Windows 3.1 applications out of the marketplace. Earlier this month, Microsoft began telling software developers that they're expected to get Chicago-compliant upgrades on the shelves by next spring, and at the same time to pull all Windows 3.1 versions off the shelves. If enough developers listen to Microsoft's edict--and we think most will--users won't be able to procrastinate about upgrading; by this time next year, Windows 3.1 products will be increasingly hard to find and officially obsolete.

Microsoft's Systems Division spelled out the details of this strategy in a 14-page document that explains new rules for licensing Microsoft's Windows compatibility logo, which now appears on most Windows products. After April 30, Microsoft says, only products that are fully Chicago-compliant will be licensed to carry the Windows logo. Selling older versions--and even older channel inventory--becomes a license violation if the logo is visible. (Ironically, Microsoft announced the new rules just a week before settling an antitrust dispute over its OEM licensing terms.)

Even if the April 30 deadline slips, the chaos in the market next spring is bound to be staggering. Besides a tidal wave of software upgrades, users will face a complex (and expensive) transition in hardware and peripherals, which have to comply with strict rules about Windows "plug and play" compatibility. It's hard to predict how fast the dust will settle, but there are a few questions that have pretty clear answers:

What does it mean to be "Chicago compliant"?

Microsoft's new licensing rules are detailed and probably not open to much negotiation. The "baseline requirements" for Chicago include 32-bit Windows "Portable Executable" code, support for Chicago interface conventions (including how setup routines perform), long filenames, and--"where appropriate"--support for OLE 2.0, Microsoft's mail-enabling API, and UNC pathnames. In addition, there are application-specific rules for utilities, compilers, and other development tools. Finally, all Chicago applications "must run successfully on Windows NT 3.5."

What's the timetable?

"We will discontinue licensing of the current logo as of October 1, 1994," Microsoft says. "If your product is already licensed, or becomes licensed by September 30, you may continue to use the current Windows logo on existing inventory up until April 30, 1995." The April 30 deadline also applies to "packaging, collateral, advertising," and other promotional materials that use the old logo--all of which "should no longer appear in the marketplace."

What happens if a product doesn't meet the deadline?

Microsoft says it won't object to non-Chicago titles that use the term "Windows" generically as part of their name ("XYZ for Windows"), as long as the old Windows logo has been removed. But we also expect Microsoft to launch an aggressive advertising, merchandising, and public relations effort--reminiscent of the "Intel Inside" campaign--that suggests these products are technically inferior to Chicago-style versions.

How much leverage does Microsoft really have with developers?

The Windows logo by itself isn't much of a carrot (or a stick). And Microsoft has been careful not to make threats about what might happen if the old Windows logo stays on a box after the deadline. Ultimately, we suspect Microsoft's strongest selling point will be the issue of risk. If Chicago does take the market by storm, developers who bet on a long adoption cycle are going to be in trouble. By now, most people have learned that betting against Microsoft is not a winning strategy.

But there are 50 million Windows users by Microsoft's own count. How fast can they be expected to switch?

Microsoft doesn't have to convince 50 million people to switch to Chicago, because the vast majority of these users buy almost no software for themselves. As soon as Microsoft succeeds in winning over five or ten million active buyers--who in any case are the most likely to upgrade--the transition to Chicago is a done deal.
COPYRIGHT 1994 Soft-letter
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Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Microsoft launching aggressive promotion of new operating system
Date:Jul 29, 1994
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