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A frat party for Vista's debut

Burgers, DJ and NFL quarterback help welcome the OS in San Francisco, but midnight shoppers aren't necessarily buying what Microsoft is selling.

SAN FRANCISCO--Vista may have been the marquee name at CompUSA here last night, but it was the peripherals that stole the show.

The new Microsoft operating system had a splashy coming-out on the other side of the country, as celebrity executives such as Chairman Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer--along with countless marketing dollars--descended on New York. But while Times Square socialites watched , San Franciscans had to content themselves with more of a fancy frat party.

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Not that there's anything wrong with that. There were barbequed hamburgers and hot dogs; a DJ spinning electronica, funk and '80s hits; and Alex Smith, the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers. There were Vista demos, $10 CD cases and giveaways of pens that light, Batman-style, the Microsoft logo. There was even a tall, mysterious figure in a penguin suit.

But as more than one participant noted, this was nothing like the excitement of Gates' visit at the Windows XP release half a decade ago or November's release of Sony PlayStation 3.

Plenty of revelers streamed through the Market Street doors of San Francisco's CompUSA to partake of this city's Midnight Madness event. Still, it was hardly the 500 to 1,000 guests that store manager Ben Jiongco estimated for the evening's turnout. And most customers we spoke to in line ahead of the 12:01 a.m. sale time didn't come to the store for the new operating system but rather to take advantage of the store's co-marketed sales.

The first four people in line were lured by the rebated , which they had originally tried to get amid suffocating crowds on Black Friday. They weren't in a rush to switch, they said, because in addition to premium software rates, they would have to buy a new video card and RAM to bring their machines up to speed.

Those who came out of curiosity or to celebrate the new Windows didn't plan to buy, admitting that they could save up to $300 by waiting for volume licenses and sales on components.

The lack of feeding frenzy was also apparent a minute after midnight, when the first boxes went on sale. Vista purchases were the exception rather than the rule, and by 12:10 a.m., the four cashiers had all but run out of customers to ring up.

Were Vista's underwhelming reviews to blame for the disappointing turnout? Not necessarily, Darren Cobb, a regional operations director for CompUSA, quickly noted. Give it a week, he suggested, and customers who kept their distance from the anticipated midnight crowds will make their way to the store.

Jessica Dolcourt of Download.com reported from San Francisco.