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MS goes for broke with $60 Win2k offer

How many beta 3s will go out - do we hear a million? Two million? Tin hats, people...

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At Comdex Spring yesterday Bill Gates pushed the button on the Windows 2000 launch, and simultaneously the company rolled out a $59.95 offer giving users beta 3 for $59.95, plus access to updates during the beta, and the full gold code when it ships. The offer is available here, and looks suspiciously like the mechanism Microsoft intends to use to get those 500,000 Win2k beta testers Jim Allchin was promising just last week. Except that according to Bill, Microsoft already has 500,000 corporate users signed up, and the latest programme, which is in plain view on the Microsoft site, is being operated differently from the two we already know about. Microsoft already has OEMs signed up to ship beta code plus upgrade coupons to users who want Win2k. Yesterday Gates said there were 20 companies ready to do this, and Dell and HP were among the companies announcing their participation in the programme. At the same time we have something that was being referred to last week as the Corporate Partnership Program, which we read as being aimed at key corporate customers. As originally planned this programme was intended to give very close aid and support to a small elite of key corporate customers. Conceivably, if a reasonable number of the corporate customers covered were doing widespread testing, this might account for the 500,000 seats that Gates says are already signed up to the beta. More likely, Bill has just identified the major customers and counted all of the seats they own, which doesn't mean 500,000 beta testers, but assuming participation in an early release programme means they'll be upgraded to gold code early, it does mean 500,000 users won for Win2k shortly after shipping. But when we first heard about this programme last year it was called the Corporate Preview Program, not the Corporate Partnership Program (or alternatively, the Cost Recovery Program). The one announced on the Web yesterday is different, but is also called the Corporate Preview Program - are they the same, or different? The new CPP doesn't look particularly corporate, and there's no sign that it will be limited to 500,000. We think this is the one intended to win the great unwashed to the Win2k cause, and that Microsoft is aiming to get as many on board as possible now, then issue cackling press releases later. The honest punters will get the beta code, Win2k Professional and Server, and for an extra $19.95 they get code for Advanced Server. They also get an evaluation and deployment kit, preview guide, and Beta Update subscription. The offer will also be available internationally, which suggests strongly that this is the big one. But MS also stresses that you should allow six to eight weeks for delivery after the release of beta 3. That means two things. First of all, the people this offer is aimed at aren't the core customers - they're being brought on board to build critical mass for Win2k. Second, it means Microsoft is expecting high volumes, and has therefore factored in CD pressing times and, probably, the need to build some more fixes into the product before it can be risked in distribution this widespread. As a sign-off, we'd just like to observe how sinful this all is. Microsoft doesn't have gold code, and won't be likely to have it before October, which is the optimistic date. But it's got its 20 top OEMs agreeing to ship the beta, it's recruiting its key corporate customers to install the beta, and it's offering the world in general a massively attractive discount deal in order to get them to run the beta. MS is sacrificing a lot of upfront revenue in order to get an OS deployed first, and will then fix it later. This is a sin. ®

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