Win98 goes on sale - sort of

One online reseller has begun taking pre-orders from customers looking to purchase copies of Windows 98.

Earlier this week, Microsoft began informing distributors of pricing for Windows 98, which is expected to be available for retail shipment on June 25. Sources say the software maker has pegged the shrink-wrapped retail price at $209 (£129), the same as Windows 95. The retail upgrade price will be $99.95 (£61).

Individual OEM prices will vary according to volumes, but Chumbo.com, which operates a software sales outlet on the Internet, on Friday began accepting orders, according to David Prais, the company's president and founder. Chumbo.com's price is $179.99 (£110) for the product and $94.99 (£58) for the upgrade.

"I think even the pre-order will hit the tops of our charts within a week," said Prais. "As soon as Microsoft officially releases the price, it'll go on sale."

Several PC makers said they expect the upgrade policy will be similar to NT 4.0, in which Microsoft offered customers a free or discounted upgrade price for systems purchased within a certain time period.

One hot topic at the meeting was integration of Internet Explorer, currently being scrutinised by the US Department of Justice. Microsoft executives said they plan to offer only one version of the operating system - with IE integrated. But added that they will comply with government mandates.

Microsoft reiterated its position to market Windows 98 as a consumer operating system. To distinguish the upgrade from its corporate offerings, Microsoft has not included the remote management and security features that will be in NT 5.0, which is due late this year or early next year.

Microsoft will include in Windows 98, diagnostic help software that will help users solve problems on their own before calling their PC supplier. This feature is designed for consumers and for small businesses that don't have an IT department. "We weren't expecting that," said another source at the meeting. "In the past, OEMs had to take the brunt of the costs for all the calls that happened when a new OS shipped."

Microsoft also demonstrated some new features in Windows 98, such as its ability to display applications on two monitors simultaneously, and disk-caching technology that loads applications as much as 36 percent faster than Windows 95.

Windows 98 is the first operating system that natively supports USB (universal serial bus) and has robust plug-and-play capabilities. PC users will therefore be able to add and remove peripherals more easily than they do today.

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