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MS UK Win98 SE free offer not very free really

Ms denies PR stunt, picks up tab for some users, apparently

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Updated Finally, we have the complete and totally accurate poop on Microsoft UK's free update to Windows 98 SE. And with a bit of luck, all of the people working for Microsoft UK will themselves have had their knowledge upgraded within the next few hours. Unfortunately, it turns out to be not very free at all. The story so far. Microsoft UK announced in late June that "existing registered customers of Microsoft Windows 98 will be eligible to receive a free copy of Windows 98 Second Edition." No mention of different arrangements for people who bought it retail and those (most) who got it shipped as an OEM copy, with their PC. Earlier this week Microsoft UK sent a letter to its OEMs advising them that their customers would be eligible, and telling them to direct them to the Microsoft Connection. But when we publicised this yesterday, it all started to fall apart. The Microsoft Connection was turning away callers, saying contact your OEM, and the OEM will decide whether you get a free upgrade or not. The form on the Microsoft Web site had meanwhile sprouted (we don't remember it being there a couple of weeks ago) a message saying the offer didn't apply to OEM customers, who should contact their supplier. That was the situation until a couple of hours ago, when Microsoft UK PR business manager David Gregory, in response to queries from The Register, took steps to resolve the confusion. And now? Well, the no OEM customers message has disappeared, but a price for post and packing has gone up - UKP16.82. That's about $26.40, so the UK free offer costs more than the US 'not free' $19.95. This now puts the Australian free version, with shipping and handling charges of A$13.95 (about $9.20) in a clear lead. But shall we just pause for a moment and try to figure out what has been going on in MS UK? The Microsoft Connection staff do seem to have been briefed at some point that Microsoft would not be offering "free" upgrades to OEM customers. The message on the site saying so (the one that disappeared this morning) tends to support the interpretation that there might have been an internal plan to get the OEMs to shoulder the costs of upgrade distribution while giving out a really free upgrade to retail customers. OEMs would have squealed about that of course, so maybe the other plan of giving everybody an upgrade that was presented as free, but that cost more than the paid-for version in the US, turned out to make most sense. Pity the implemented bits of both plans at the same time, and pity the "free" offer now looks like a cheap PR stunt. But here's where the form is, if you've got your UKP16.82 ready: MS Expensive Free Offer Microsoft UK has given us a response to the above story. The episode was not, the company says, designed as a PR stunt. Postage and packing is charged by a third party distributor charge and the money doesn't go to Microsoft - the product is still free and Microsoft will not profit from Widows 98 Second Edition in the UK. Microsoftnevertheless accepts that it doesn't look free to the consumer, and would like to apologise for the confusion caused for those who ordered the product before 6th July, when the Web site changed. Microsoft says it will absorb the cost of third party delivery to customers who applied before the pricing details went up on the site. ®

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