A Microsoft spokesman said the upgrades were in the form of vouchers for buyers of new systems with pre-installed Office 95, between December 18 last year and the UK launch of the software last Thursday. Gateway and Dell are no longer selling the vouchers as they now both ship Office 97 as standard.
"With the upgrade scheme open only to those customers buying PCs in that window of opportunity, there is no longer any difference with dealers," said a Gateway 2000 spokesperson. But dealers' fears have been raised and there is a feeling that if it's happened once, it could happen again with future software upgrades, despite Microsoft dismissing it as "confusion".
With dealers having to pay around £200 to the big distributors for an upgrade copy of the software, there was considerable resentment in the channel, with one dealer suggesting the temptation to copy Office 97 could be too great. "Some dealers would have been tempted," said Martin Clark, managing director of portables dealer Lapland. "I'm not condoning pirates," he added, "I think they are scumbags."
Geoff Webster, chief executive of the Federation Against Software Theft (FAST) said "pricing differentials that seem to penalise the channel will lead to some dealers resorting to piracy." It's an area of greater concern for FAST which will be launching a new anti-piracy campaign to the distribution channel in the second quarter of this year.