by Paul Thurrott\n\n\n\nWith the tagline "The Wow Starts Now," it seems like the Windows Vista launch was almost\ndesigned to be ridiculed. After all, how could the Vista launch measure up to Microsoft's\nfamous Windows 95 launch?\n\n\n\nThe answer, of course, is that it can't, and analysts are already beginning to criticize\nMicrosoft's Vista launch and marketing efforts.\n\nI suppose it all comes down to how you measure such things. In 1995, only a small percentage of\npeople had computers and those who had even heard of the Internet were accessing it via a pokey\ndial-up connection that squealed in your ear if you inadvertently picked up the telephone\nreceiver while you were downloading your email. In other words, Microsoft was able to position\nWin95 much more broadly back then because moving to Win95 was a monumental improvement for\nvirtually everyone.\n\n\n\nHowever, times have changed. Many people in developed nations own or use PCs, and the\ncapabilities of OSs have improved dramatically over the years. The Internet is common and\ntypically accessed via fat broadband pipes. Heck, it's even common for consumers in North\nAmerica, Asia, and Western Europe to access Internet sites and services via their cell phones.\n\n\n\nWhat else has changed? When Win95 was launched, few retail stores sold the OS, so long lines at\nmidnight madness launch events gave the system a more exciting send-off with more people\nshowing up per store.\n\nThis year, 39,000 retailers in the United States alone stocked Vista the day it was launched,\nmaking for shorter lines and shorter waits.\n\nAnd of course, most people who buy Vista retail packages will do so from online retailers such\nas Amazon.com, which, incidentally, reported exceptionally high demand for the product.\nUnfortunately, images of people clicking "Buy Now" in a Web browser don't make for exciting\nnews reports.\n\n\n\nBut what about compared with the recent video game launches such as those for the Sony\nPlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii, you say? Those drew strong crowds of people waiting outside of\nretail stores overnight.\n\nSurely, Vista was a dud compared to those products. Not at all: The PlayStation 3 and Wii were\nin very short supply, whereas Microsoft pumped the retail channel full of Vista. It will never\nbe hard to find or purchase Vista; consumers can easily walk into a Best Buy today and purchase\nthe Vista version they want. There was no need to run out into the cold January night when you\ncould order (or preorder) Vista from the comfort of your couch. Heck, you can even download\nVista from Windows Marketplace if you want.\n\n\n\nBut let's bring a bit of reality back to the equation for those of you who are still worried\nthat Vista is going to chug along with slow sales and disappointing returns. Even in its most\nconservative public estimates, Microsoft said it expects to sell more than 100 million copies\nof Vista by the end of 2007 and more than 200 million copies by the end of 2008. Frankly, the\nnumbers will probably be quite a bit better than that, considering that more than 200 million\nPCs will be sold each year.\n\n\n\nMicrosoft CEO Steve Ballmer said that the company expects to sell more than five times as many\ncopies of Vista in the next three months as it did during the same time period after the Win95\nlaunch. Yes, the market is bigger today, Ballmer admitted, but part of the reason is the\nexcitement for the product, which was five years in the making. To put it simply, Vista was a\nblockbuster waiting to happen. The fact that few people lined up outside stores the night of\nthe launch says more about the maturity of the market than it does about Vista's performance.