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Win2k beta 3 – will MS ship a million copies?

Judging from the figures, this week's beta could be one of the company's star products

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With the third (and allegedly, final) beta of Windows 2000 due for release this week, some interesting numbers are starting to leak out. Major corporate customers, PC manufacturers and existing beta testers ought to get the code within the next few days, but Microsoft says it's producing 500,000 CDs of the beta software over the next month. So we can presume that 500,000 is intended to cover the Corporate Preview Program (CPP), whereby users will be charged $59.95 (or similar in local currency) for beta 3. How many copies of beta 3 are likely to go out? At Comdex Bill Gates was saying Microsoft already had 500,000 signed up for the beta, so if we take him at his word, and assume that all of the CPP copies will go out (we shouldn't necessarily assume they'll all be paid for), that would be a million copies. But that wouldn't be all, because 20 PC OEMs will be shipping machines with beta 3 installed. We - and indeed they - can't have any idea how many copies this is going to mean until the sales numbers come in, but clearly we have a potential number somewhat in excess of a million. Unless of course (as actually The Register suspects) Bill was talking projections rather than hard numbers at Comdex. Even so, 500,000 CPP copies plus corporates plus OEMs is perfectly likely to give us a number in the vicinity of a million. To get that into perspective, Microsoft claimed that Windows 98 sold 1.5 million upgrades (i.e. retail product, OEM sales would come on top of that) in the first two months after the product's launch. Right now the Win2k beta doesn't look like it will match that, but it's certainly going to achieve impressive distribution levels for a beta, and if you recall that it's rather more the successor to NT 4.0 than to Windows 98, penetration will look more impressive still. But here's some more numbers. Microsoft is quoting six to eight weeks delivery for delivery of the beta under the CPP, and that tallies with the month delay while the CDs are cut. If we assume a 90 day beta period from, say, early to mid June that gives us a targeted completion date of approximately mid-August. PC manufacturers generally need six to eight weeks after gold code before they go live with a new OS. They need to cut CDs themselves, test the software, print documentation and so on. Which takes us to October at the earliest, right? That's Microsoft's internal ship date target, but as we can see it's entirely dependent on everything going according to plan with beta 3. History, meanwhile, is against this. Beta 3 was supposed to be out at the end of last summer, with targeted ship date for gold code then being late Q1 99. So we have seven months slippage on the beta, and a substantial reduction (depends how you count it) in the planned period between beta 3 and gold code. If things go wrong, the ship date will go back towards the end of 99, which was where it was before this October stuff started going around, and Microsoft could be shipping beta code well into the autumn. Wonder how many copies that would be? ®

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