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MS 'runs out' of additional licence packs...

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News is filtering out of what must surely be one of the smallest sales booms ever - Microsoft, it would appear, has run out of Additional Family License packs for Windows XP. Microsoft, to its slight credit, doesn't seem to be making a big thing of this; it is merely telling the scribes that it made an unspecified estimate of how many of these things would be sold in the first 90 days, and that demand has far exceeded expectations.

Naturally that won't stop some of them hollering that the packs have turned out to be a huge hit, but frankly, we have our doubts. The deal for the packs, such as it is, is that if you buy a full copy of XP you can buy additional XP licences for a small discount. The intention here is to offer at least something to the people who used to buy a single upgrade pack at retail then put the software on several machines. This has always been a breach of Microsoft's licensing agreements, but it's one of those things that tends to fall into the 'not really stealing' category, as far as Harry Homeowner is concerned.

WPA is at least in part designed to do a better job of getting over the message to Harry that it is really stealing. Some Harries will surely find themselves sufficiently defeated by the protection technology to stop stealing, others will grab whatever WPA circumvention routines they can and do multi-installs anyway, but at least they'll be a little more conscious of the legal aspect. If they consider that, uh, it might be kind of stealing but... Well, Microsoft's anti-piracy team will no doubt see it as an improvement.

The Family License procedure is sort of intended to provide a mechanism for former arch-criminals to legitimise themselves by actually having a proper licence for each and every machine running XP. It is not, however, what you'd call a steal (we phrased that one badly, didn't we?). You get a discount in the region of $10 on extra licences, so if you're putting the software on two machines, instead of paying double you're paying double minus $10. As you're dealing with full copies here, then you're paying more than you would if either or both of the machines had an upgrade-qualifying MS operating system on it already, because you could then buy two copies of the cheaper XP upgrade version.

So actually, it's really extremely difficult to figure out why anybody would spend money on the Family License pack. Microsoft's sales teams might be barracudas, but they're not stupid, so we can surely presume that the number of these things they expected to sell in the first 90 days was low, very, very, low indeed. On the other hand, you say, if they've run out, somebody must have bought some?

Well, maybe not exactly. Microsoft's retail "sales" numbers are badly fuzzed by the fact that the company knows what it's shipped to retail outlets, but not what the retail outlets have sold. It's therefore conceivable that retailers have ordered sufficient additional licence packs to clear the Microsoft end of the channel, but that these are now destined to sit in the warehouses unsold, for a long, long time.

As a reality check, The Register this morning attempted to buy some, via a couple of UK online retailers, and via Microsoft itself. We couldn't actually find any mention of the things on any of these, far less check the stock situation, but no doubt we weren't looking hard enough. We did notice that the UK retailers were reporting loads of copies of XP being available.

On a related topic NPD Intelect, which you'll recall came up with some supporting data for early XP retail sales, now reports that PC sales stayed flat in XP's first week, and rose only 1 per cent the week after that. This indicates that XP, as we've been arguing for some time, is not going to have any effect in fueling a happy holiday season. ®

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