Customers can preorder Windows XP

Retailers and computer makers are letting customers do some early Windows shopping.

More than 30 PC makers and a handful of online and offline retailers have begun preselling packaged versions of Microsoft Corp.'s Windows XP operating system, as well as computers with the software preinstalled, Microsoft said Thursday.

Packaged versions of the software won't be shipped to customers or available on retail shelves until the official Oct. 25 launch -- or near that date -- Microsoft has said. Some customers who preorder Windows XP on a new PC, however, could get their hands on a computer running the operating system by the end of the month.

Gateway Inc. Tuesday was the first major PC vendor to announce that it will begin taking preorders for PCs with Windows XP already installed. Customers who order a system now will receive new PCs as early as the end of this month, the company said. Compaq Computer Corp., Dell Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp. and Sony Corp. -- each offering Windows XP-ready machines -- are expected to follow Gateway with early shipping dates. Meanwhile, Inc., Best Buy Co. Inc. and Costco Wholesale Corp. have begun making the software available for preorder on their Web sites.

Microsoft gave PC makers the final "Gold" code of the operating system on Aug. 24, setting off a frenzy to get the product to market. At the same time the company announced suggested prices for the Home and Professional Editions of the software as well as upgrades. was the first retailer to let those prices out. The online retailer prematurely posted the software for sale on its Web site on two occasions. is selling Windows XP Home Edition for US$199 with a $99 upgrade from an early system. The Professional version is $299 and $199 for an upgrade. is offering the software at the same prices. is selling Windows XP for $279 -- $20 less than most vendors. An upgrade is $184.99 -- $15 less than the suggested sale price.

Customers running Windows 98, Windows NT, Windows 2000 and the latest release, Windows Me, are eligible to by the operating system as an upgrade. To aid in the installation process, Microsoft said it will release a Windows XP Upgrade Advisor tool, which checks a user's system to make sure it can support the new operating system and guides a user through the upgrade process.

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