Microsoft EU e-store collapses amid crush of Windows 7 pre-orders

Amazon's French and German stores sell out of discounted operating system

Microsoft's European online store crashed today under the load from customers eager to grab discounted copies of Windows 7.

During the outage, the site displayed a message that said, "Due to the eagerly anticipated Windows 7 pre-order offer, we're experiencing a higher level of demand on our website than usual. This means you can't access the site right now and we're sorry about that."

The store was briefly back online at 11 a.m. ET, but an hour later it had again gone down|.

According to a report by the BBC, Amazon's UK store claimed that it had moved more copies of Windows 7 in the sale's first eight hours than it did in the 17-week run of a similar pre-order offer in 2006 for Windows Vista.

The sale, a repeat of the U.S. pre-order deals that ended last Saturday, kicked off today when Microsoft offered heavy discounts on Windows 7 Home Premium and Windows 7 Professional in the U.K., France and Germany. The discounts are good through Aug. 14, or until supplies last.

That caveat came into play on Amazon.com's French and German stores, both which announced early Wednesday that they had sold out their allotments of the specially-priced editions. Amazon's German store, for instance, said today that it had exhausted its supply of the EUR49.97 Home Premium, and instead was taking new pre-orders at EUR119.97.

The sell-out of Windows 7 pushed Home Premium and Professional to the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, respectively, on Amazon's French and German software bestseller lists.

Microsoft is selling Windows 7E Home Premium in the U.K. for £49.99, a 67% discount from the list price of £149.99, and selling Professional for £99.99, 55 per cent under the usual £219.99.

European customers will receive Windows 7 in special editions, dubbed "E" for "Europe," that have been stripped of Internet Explorer 8 (IE8). A month ago, Microsoft decided to yank IE8 from Windows 7 in an effort to head off EU antitrust regulators, who may still force the company to take more drastic measures.

Instead, Microsoft has shifted the responsibility for a browser to computer makers, who will decide which browser or browsers to install. The lack of a browser in Windows 7E shoved Microsoft's "Internet Pack" -- a bundle that includes both IE8 and Windows Live Essentials - to the No. 2 spot on Amazon's German software bestseller list today. Amazon is charging German customers #8364;3.99 for the pack.

The introduction of Windows 7E has presented Microsoft with a major problem: Because it will block Vista users from doing "in-place" upgrades to Windows 7 - to do otherwise would leave a version of IE on the machine - the company isn't selling "Upgrade" editions. Instead, it's selling the "Full" editions, which are usually more expensive, at "Upgrade" prices.

The discounted prices for Windows 7 in the EU and the U.K. were for the Full editions, which Microsoft will sell at least through the end of the year. It expects to eventually solve the technical issues, at which point it will introduce its standard two-tier Upgrade/Full retail pricing.

Customers who pre-order Windows 7 won't receive their copies until on or after Oct. 22, the day that Microsoft officially launches the operating system.

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Gregg Keizer

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