Amazon pulls preorder plug on Windows XP

Amazon.com customers looking to place advance orders for Microsoft's Windows XP operating system were out of luck as the product listing disappeared from the online store.

Amazon.com customers looking to place advance orders for Microsoft's Windows XP operating system were out of luck Tuesday as the product listing disappeared from the online store.

Amazon had started taking preorders for Windows XP last week, company spokeswoman Ling Hong said Monday. The company typically takes orders for software before it is released, as it did with Office XP, she said.

Sources close to the Redmond, Wash-based software maker on Monday indicated that Microsoft had been leaning on Amazon to stop taking advance orders for Windows XP, which does not officially go on sale until Oct 25.

Amazon spokeswoman Lizzie Allen confirmed that the company had stopped taking preorders but insisted that this was not at the behest of Microsoft.

"We realized that we had put it up erroneously, when the pricing hadn't been confirmed yet, and we want to wait taking preorders until the pricing is confirmed," she said. Amazon had already taken some orders, and "we're going to honor all of those," Allen said.

Initially, Amazon removed images of the Windows XP box, but as of Tuesday morning, the product could not be found anywhere on the company's Web site.

Amazon's action may have inadvertently disclosed Windows XP pricing ahead of Microsoft's plans. Those prices were about US$10 higher for the Windows XP consumer version compared with the street price of Windows Me and US$20 higher for the full version.

"Pricing will be announced in the coming months prior to launch," Microsoft spokesman Jim Cullinan said Monday.

Amazon's preorder for the consumer Windows XP version upgrade was US$100, and for the full version, US$200. Amazon had listed the commercial upgrade for US$200 and the full commercial version for US$300.

The average street price for Windows Me upgrades is US$89.95 and the full version is priced around US$180. That works out to about a US$10 increase for the upgrade and US$20 for the full version. While some online and catalog dealers offer the Windows 2000 Professional upgrade at a promotional price of about US$120, the more typical upgrade costs US$189, and the full version goes for US$280. That works out to about a US$20 price increase for the commercial version of Windows XP vs Windows Professional.

Though Amazon's pricing for earlier versions of Windows XP is higher than the street price at most computer retailers, Hong said Tuesday the company had been taking preorders at the manufacturers' authorized price (MAP). "We got the price from Microsoft and are selling it at MAP," she said.

But Tuesday Allen said that Hong might have misspoken Monday. According "to our buyers, the price has not been finalized yet."

Microsoft apparently revealed preliminary Windows XP pricing to its retail partners during a nondisclosure meeting held in Las Vegas on June 26, said sources familiar with the event. During the meeting, the software maker, Intel, PC makers and retailers committed as much as US$1 billion to push Windows XP, either through advertising or other promotions. Intel committed about US$300 million for Pentium 4, with Microsoft kicking in between US$120 million and US$200 million more specifically for Windows XP.

Windows XP will ship in two versions: Home and Professional. Basic features--among them Internet Explorer 6, Windows Media Player, Windows Messenger and Internet firewall--are essentially identical. The Home version is the upgrade to Windows 95, 98 and Me; and Professional replaces Windows NT and 2000. The Professional version packs more robust networking and security features and support for multiprocessing, among other features.

Reaction to Windows XP pricing was mixed.

"I have beta tested Windows XP, and I personally don't think it is worth the US$199.99," said Brandon Cooper, a Windows user from Chandler, Ariz. "Right now, there really isn't a difference between Windows XP Home and Pro, that I can see, other than Windows XP Home has more enhancements for home users."

In fact, the lack of clear distinction between the two versions could cause consumer confusion, said Gartner analyst Michael Silver. "I don't think people will see the obvious differences between Home and Pro, and that's a problem for Microsoft."

But Larry Johnson, a consultant from Lodi, Calif., said that didn't bother him. "I found Microsoft's comparisons for XP Home and XP Pro, for Win2K and XP Pro and for XP Home to be very helpful, though hard to find on the Web," he said.

Based on the comparison, Johnson said he would likely upgrade to one of the Windows XP versions from Windows 98 Second Edition.

But other consumers have been having a tougher time making their evaluations. A series of unrelated glitches and poor communication with customers has soured some people's taste for Windows XP. Nine days after launching the Windows XP Preview Program, which would put early test versions of the operating system into the hands of about 100,000 people, many people complain they have not received their copies.

Will Wilson, IT manager for ClearChannel Television in Wichita, Kan, is one of the people waiting impatiently to get an email from Microsoft with an ID and password to download the Windows XP preview. He also ordered a copy on CD.

"This just plain sucks because so many people would like to see what the next version of Windows has to offer, especially me because I manage 60-plus computers in a Windows NT domain," he said. "I would like to see if the next version of windows is going to work for us. It is very disheartening hearing about how great Windows XP is and not being able to see for myself."

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