Is Microsoft ‘Cool’ Now, or Was This Just a Big Stunt?

A couple of weeks ago we poked fun at Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for his brilliant plan to make the tech dinosaur “cool”  despite the fact that price has been its main selling point for some time. Yet today marked the official release of the Surface tablet and the Windows 8 platform and, based on the public reaction, we feel like Ballmer may have succeeded in spite of himself.

OK, we love our Xbox, but when was the last time anyone got excited about a new Microsoft product?

Apparently that would be yesterday. Microsoft aimed to make a spectacle out of its new product rollout, and the crowds at its Times Square preview event were surprisingly dense.

The craziest thing about the scene was the fact that none of the people who waited in line for a Surface last night actually got one. They paid for the tablet, and then they were told that they could either return at midnight to pick it up or “have it delivered to their homes or hotel rooms by noon tomorrow.”

Wow. That’s iPhone-level insanity.

Has Microsoft really become a contender for techie supremacy again?

The company is certainly making progress: Its principals seem to have accepted the fact that we now live in a “post-desktop” world, and the new OS is much more compatible with tablets and phones than previous versions. Another telling detail: TechCrunch asked attendees why they were excited about the Surface, and one of the most common answers was “It’s not Apple”. Some also noted the appeal of recent television spots. Guess people do still watch live TV, huh?

This still doesn’t quite explain what looked like a public freakout.

We’re a little confused. Help us out: Do we see genuine excitement here, or is this release event some kind of well-orchestrated PR stunt? We’re leaning toward the latter. For example, the fact that Microsoft gave out $100 Xbox vouchers to the first 100 people in line at Microsoft stores around the country this morning certainly had the desired effect. And screaming throngs don’t really tell us all that much, do they?

Either way, we have to give Microsoft a PR win on this one.

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.