Hard sell for the software `revolution'

John Carlin in Washington reports on how Windows fever has gripped a nation
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With the possible exception of the hermetically sealed OJ Simpson jurors, everyone in America knows that today Windows 95 will be unveiled to the world.

Most Americans are also aware that Windows 95 is a revolutionary software system which will, supposedly, enhance the thrills of veteran cyberspace navigators and make it easier for hitherto baffled grannies to understand how computers work.

That's all. And yet not since the first landing on the moon - or, at any rate, since the last Super Bowl - has America been more aflutter.

Computer stores across the country were due to open their doors at one second after midnight to give shoppers the chance to fulfil the dream advertised in a thousand newspapers, "to be among the first to get your very own Windows 95!"

The great achievement of Microsoft, Windows 95's manufacturer, has been to make software sexy. Already, through the wizardry of marketing, the idea has taken root in Middle America that it is indispensable for your self-esteem and sex-appeal to be able to say that you too have Windows 95 installed in your computer. The beauty of it all is that now you can purchase love, self-confidence and universal admiration for a fraction of what it would cost you to get a face-lift or a Porsche.

If the public is excited, computer store owners are hyperventilating. The bad news about Windows 95 is that in order to unlock its full potential for the provision of personal happiness and fulfilment you have to "upgrade" your computer systems - which means buying new modems, new printers and new expanded memory hard drives, new everything.

Staples, an office-supply chain based in the Washington area, has been holding what it calls "in-store rallies" to pump up staff for the big day and educate them in the persuasive arts necessary to convince customers that it is not enough merely to spend $89.95 (pounds 59) on your basic Windows 95 kit.

So hugely profitable is the Windows 95 take-off expected to be that other industries are trying to get in on the act.

American Airlines is offering, for a limited time only, $95 discount fares to purchasers of Windows 95. MCI, a telephone company in furious competition with telecommunications giant AT&T, is giving away $90 in free long-distance phone calls.

One man looms over the frenzy like a colossus: Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft and, at the age of 39, the richest man in the world. Today he will be appearing live by satellite in hundreds of Computer City stores across America to introduce his new creation to the world.

Anyone who had not heard of Windows 95, would stare up at the screen and see a completely unprepossessing man in glasses who looked as if he'd just stepped off the set of Revenge of the Nerds III.

Millions of Americans - taught as they have been to venerate success, vulnerable as they are to calculated hype, desperate as they are to latch on to the latest trends - will look into Mr Gates's moon face and see Superman.