"Wow" hasn't tended to be a big part of Bill Gates' vocabulary, but to hear him speak in the hours before Microsoft Corp.'s planned launch of the long-awaited Vista operating system, you'd never know it.
"This 'Wow' thing is a great way of describing what we've got here," Microsoft's chairman told The Associated Press on Monday as the software maker began a slate of splashy events in New York. "There are chances for wows all over the product."
More than five years in the making, Vista was released for businesses Nov. 30, but the unveiling for consumers of the latest edition of Windows - which runs more than 90 percent of the world's PCs - was scheduled for Tuesday around the globe. Vista retails for $100 to $400, depending on the version and whether the user is upgrading from Windows XP.
Over the weekend, Dell Inc. started taking orders for PCs with Vista for delivery Tuesday and beyond. Kevin Rollins, Dell's chief executive, said at a launch event Monday that the company's Web site saw a 20 percent jump in traffic and that "tens of thousands of copies" of Vista were sold.
In Tokyo, about 80 people lined up at the Bic Camera Department Store to become among the world's first consumers to own Vista. Celebrities and executives were on hand as a large-screen TV displayed a countdown to the midnight launch (10 a.m. EST).
The second person in line, Fumihiko Koyama, 33, waited three hours and was hoping the new operating system will make his work in Web design easier.
"My expectations are very high for Vista," he said. "I want to try it out because it's new."
The Redmond, Wash.-based software maker contends that Vista is such a huge improvement over previous computing platforms that users inevitably say "Wow" when they see it.
When users boot up Vista for the first time, they'll be wowed by the slick 3-D graphical user interface and document icons that give at-a-glance previews, Gates said. He said the next wow comes when people start using a system-wide search program that Microsoft's engineers built into both the operating system and new versions of Microsoft Word, Excel and other Office 2007 elements, which also hit store shelves at midnight.
But will this talk of "wow" translate into crowds at the CompUSA and Best Buy stores that are staying open until past midnight to sell the very first Vista machines?
"When I look at Windows Vista, I see a technology that is interesting, that is relevant, but to some extent is evolutionary," said Al Gillen, an analyst at the technology research group IDC. "I do not believe it will create a lot of motivation for people to rush out and get a new operating system."
Gates said Microsoft actually wasn't pushing midnight sales events - after all, the software will be available as a download over the Web for the first time. Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer said in a speech Monday that, as in the past, most consumers will switch to Vista only when they buy a new computer.
Still, Gates didn't play down the importance of Vista. He argued that as the PC has morphed from a souped-up typewriter to a networked entertainment center, personal media library and gateway to the Internet, the operating system itself has earned a higher profile.
"When people think about their PC, they think about Windows even more than who the manufacturer is. That determines how it looks, how you navigate, what the applications are that are available," Gates told the AP. And in this case, Vista has folded in programs that users once bought separately - including automated backup systems and some spyware protections.