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New U.K. Apple store welcomes Tiger fans

Birmingham crowd has plenty to be excited about--the opening of the company's second European store and the arrival of a new OS.

BIRMINGHAM, England--It may not be London's swank Regent Street, but the Bullring shopping center here saw its share of Mac fans camping out for the grand opening of Apple Computer's retail outlet--and the arrival of the Tiger operating system.

The first in line, Cathy Yan, hails from Beijing, although she didn't make the trip specifically to inspect Apple's second European retail outlet. Yan studies in Birmingham and arrived at the Bullring at 7 a.m. with two friends: Joel Chu, a video production designer from London, and Kenny Wang, also based in London.

Many in line said they work in media-related businesses that rely on Apple software, and most seemed to be veterans of last November's high-profile

Few seemed intent on a retail Tiger purchase, however--everyone asked said they had already ordered the software online. "I just want to look around, really," said Chu.

Theoretically, Tiger might never arrive in the new store, if a company called Tiger Direct succeeds in getting a preliminary injunction against OS X 10.4 in a hearing in Florida next Tuesday. The Apple faithful were not concerned, however.

"There was the same kind of trademark-infringement controversy when OS 9 came out, and they just shipped it anyway," said a Mac user from London.

The store opening boosts Apple's European retail presence. The company is planning a third European store at the Bluewater shopping center east of London.

At the Regent Street opening, which coincided with a large Apple exposition nearby, customers began lining up on Wednesday night for the store's early Friday opening, and by the time the doors opened thousands were waiting in the freezing cold. The Birmingham line was a less desperate affair. By mid-afternoon, about 100 people had joined the line, many sitting in comfortable-looking camping chairs.

But by late afternoon, the crowd had quadrupled in size, perhaps fueled by Apple fans arriving from work.

Unlike last November, when customers had to sit in sleeping bags on the street for more than 24 hours to avoid frostbite, Friday's customers sweated under the direct sunlight streaming through the Bullring's skylight.

Those lining up acknowledged that the bright light made it a bit difficult to see the screens of their iBooks and PowerBooks, which, along with countless PDAs and all kinds of iPods, were about the only way of passing the time. As with its other stores, Apple has set up a wireless LAN in the store to demonstrate its AirPort networking gear, and fortunately for those waiting, the entire line seemed to be in range.

One of those in line, who described himself as a content creator, said he paid to be one of the original beta testers for the first version of OS X, and has his collection of boxes from OS X's annual releases lined up at home. "I was disappointed when I got the educational version of Jaguar through my mom, and they shipped it without a box," he said.

While Apple isn't planning to sell mystery bags of hardware and software this time--one of the major draws of the Regent Street opening, because some contained laptops, iPods and the like for greatly reduced prices--shoppers will have a chance to win a PowerBook G4, an iPod Shuffle, Apple software, iTunes music and other gear. Free T-shirts are also being offered. The shop is open until midnight on Friday.

Matthew Broersma reported for ZDNet UK.