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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Tech Industry

Windows 98 sparks midnight madness

Customers may be lining up around the block to get Windows 98 after all.

Customers may be lining up around the block to get Windows 98 after all.

That's because retailers are offering up $98 computers and other special, one-time deals to bring customers into stores for the launch of Microsoft's upgraded operating system.

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Windows dressing Retailers will kick off a series of special events at the stroke of midnight tonight in an effort to jump start sales for Windows 98, the successor to Windows 95. Although the attending hoopla pales in comparison to the global extravaganza surrounding the Windows 95 launch, the deals will likely draw some customers.

Tonight, CompUSA will host "Late Night at CompUSA." Starting at midnight, the 98-minute sale will include limited quantities of $98 CompUSA brand PCs equipped with Celeron processors, as well as CD-ROM drives and 56-kbps modems for 98 cents. Computer buyers can also get a $98 printer or monitor. By far the largest Windows 98 third-party launch event, the retailer is encouraging its customers to line up at its stores.

"We believe this is the biggest software release since the launch of Windows 95," said a CompUSA spokesperson. "We also had an exciting promotion for that launch, and this will be similar." CompUSA would not comment on whether the event was co-sponsored by Microsoft.

Tandy is hosting "block parties" at its 100 Computer City stores, according to a company spokesman, except in cases "where city zoning may be restrictive."

The block party theme will include tent sales, live bands, vendor demonstrations. Additionally, contest winners will be selected for a trip to San Francisco for the Windows 98 official launch party tomorrow at 5 p.m. The parties will start at 9 p.m. tonight, and run through 1 a.m. in the morning, "but if the customers are still there, and still want the product, they will stay open later," according to the Computer City spokesman.

Windows 98 display
A shopper eyes Windows 98 before its midnight release at a California CompUSA store. AP
Some promotions seem to come from the bait-and-switch theory of retailing. T-Zone, a Bay Area computer store, is offering free Windows 98 upgrades on select computers purchased tonight. Most manufacturers have already announced free upgrade programs.

Other computer stores, especially online retailers, have been taking early orders of the upgrade, with promises to deliver the product on June 25. Insight, which counts 90 percent of its business from business customers, says early Windows 98 sales have been steady, despite the fact that Windows 98 is positioned as a consumer platform.

"We have focused in on selling the product over the last few months," said David Williams, manager of Microsoft products for Insight, where Windows 98 has been available for pre-orders for $89.90 since March. "So the customers receive the product on June 25."

Customers swept away by upgrade mania may also begin purchasing hardware that's newly supported by Windows 98, according to IDC analyst Kevin Hause, a bonus for computer superstores. CompUSA, Insight, and other computer retailers may be an early beneficiary of the native support Windows 98 offers for PC add-ons like DVD drives, TV tuner cards, or any peripheral device that connects to the computer through the Universal Serial Bus (USB).

"It's a much larger milestone for retailers [than for PC makers]," Hause said. "They really need to get people into the stores to sell the add-ons, the USB peripherals, as well as other software."

Most major PC makers have been shipping upgrade certificates with their Windows 95 computers for the last few months, redeemable for free or discounted upgrades to Windows 98.