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Win98 SE hits the stores, but service pack MIA

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The US version of Windows 98 SE goes on sale today, but international users may have to wait a while longer, and the free service pack for existing users apparently won't be posted for few more weeks yet. According to US Windows 98 product manager Mike Nichols, the new version will be shipping with almost all new PCs, and will be on sale at US retail outlets from today. It's also allegedly available from Microsoft's Web site, but MS' Web morlocks don't seem to be up yet today, so there's a 'please come back later' notice, and not much else. But there are various noteworthy clues to where Microsoft is headed. The upgrade for existing users is being offered on CD direct from Microsoft for $19.95, while the service pack is also being offered on CD for $5. As we've mentioned here before, it's obviously in Microsoft's interest to be able to communicate directly with its users, and to be able to take a small fee from them every now and again for upgrades and service packs. We're trying not to get too suspicious about the MIA status of the free downloadable service pack though. From the Microsoft site in its current state however it would appear that the company will also be selling the full version (itself an upgrade, of course) of SE direct. We can't be absolutely sure of this until the online store's doors open, but this would be rather different from the previously announced policy of selling the $19.95 Win98 upgrade, and Microsoft's suggestion that you might like to 'skip the mall' will no doubt cheer up its happy band of retailers no end. What's in SE? Well, most of the stuff, aside from the connection sharing software, can be assembled from free downloadable bug-fixes and upgrades. Nichols seems to have been somewhat stretched to come up with advantages for the product yesterday, telling reporters that he hoped the convenience of having all the upgrades on one CD would get users to spend $19.95. He doesn't seem to have covered the justification for spending around $90 on the retail version, or why you'd spend the $19.95 when you can conveniently get the service pack for $5 (when it's out). But the 'convenience' angle is maybe a little spurious. Upgrades, various enhancements and service packs have historically tended to be free, downloadable if you're in a hurry but fairly easy to pick up on a free CD if you're not. In the UK, where this sort of stuff is commonly available on magazine cover CDs, we've noted an increasingly reluctance on MS' part to play ball. If MS lets the mags put service packs and upgrades on their cover CDs, then we've got the convenience without giving Microsoft the money. Ah, but will the mags be allowed to cover-mount the Win98 service pack? ®

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