Windows 98 Makes Commercial Debut

Still basking in the glow of a court victory this week that lifted an injunction against the software giant, Microsoft Corp. today released its controversial Windows 98 upgrade in the U.S. and 40 other countries.

While the hype surrounding the release of Windows 95 centered on the complete overhaul of Windows, this time around the operating system is in the media spotlight not because of a dramatic transformation, but because it landed Microsoft in court.

In May, the U.S. Department of Justice and the attorneys general of 20 states filed complaints in U.S. District Court in Washington charging Microsoft with anticompetitive practices, alleging that the Internet Explorer browser software is unlawfully tied into the Windows 98 operating system.

The company is directing attention away from that fact today by putting the same “consumer wins” spin on the Windows upgrade that officials used when announcing the legal victory earlier this week.

New features specifically targeted at home users include enhanced Internet Explorer technologies, troubleshooting wizards, and Web-based help items.

Indeed, in a statement announcing the upgrade today, Bill Gates billed Windows 98 as the first version of Windows that his company has designed specifically for home users.

Microsoft’s site is brimming with similar “consumerspeak” today, detailing stories about customers gathering to purchase Windows 98 at midnight promotions at retail stores around the country. Sweltering shoppers lining up outside CompUSA in the Atlanta heat were reportedly cooled off with popsicles delivered by employees from the local Microsoft office.

It appears, however, that such loyal customers may be disappointed by the end product. While most analysts appear to agree that the upgrade adds some solid functionality, the changes to the operating system are not perceived to be earth shattering (see “Win 98 Upgrade Bears Scrutiny”).

Microsoft said more than 200 PC manufacturers, such as Acer America,
Compaq Computer Corp., Dell Computer Corp., Gateway, Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM
Corp., Micron Electronics Inc., Packard Bell NEC Inc., Sony Electronics Inc.,
Siemens Nixdorf Inc. and Toshiba America Inc. will ship Windows 98-based consumer machines beginning today.

In North America, the Windows 98 upgrade will be sold in over 12,000 stores for a price tag of $109. Microsoft projects the operating system will be offered on upwards of 90% of all new consumer PCs within the month.

In addition, the company is supporting the launch with a major national print and online advertising campaign.

Wall Street appeared to react favorably to the software release; Microsoft (NASDAQ–MSFT) was in record territory again today trading at 103 at 2:19pm EST.

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