Microsoft gives green light to early Windows 7 PC sales

System builders can ship computers with new OS on Oct. 13, says Seattle-area seller

Microsoft has given small system builders the green light to start selling new Windows 7 PCs more than a week before the general launch date of Oct. 22, a US computer maker said.

According to Jon Bach, the president of Puget Systems, several Microsoft representatives have told him that his company, which sells custom PCs nationally out of its Auburn, Wash. facility, can install Windows 7 on new machines, then sell and ship them to customers on Oct. 13.

That date is nine days before the worldwide Oct. 22 launch Microsoft has touted, when Windows 7 upgrades are to go on sale at retail -- and when large computer manufacturers, such as HP and Dell, will start selling systems.

"For us [system builders], we can buy the OEM editions of Windows 7, which should be hitting distributors no later than Oct. 12, and put them in the hands of our customers on Oct. 13 at the latest," said Bach.

Bach said he had Microsoft's okay in writing.

"We have a long line of customers who are waiting for Windows 7," said Bach, who added that his sales team has taken informal orders for new Windows 7 machines from about 50 customers. Puget Systems will also kick off a more formal pre-order promotion on Monday to offer all customers the option of placing orders for early delivery of new Windows 7 computers.

"The OEM distribution channel has historically been more flexible than that for large [computer makers]," said Bach, "both as an operating system reaches its end-of-life and before it's contracted to ship from the likes of HP and Dell."

Bach's mention of end-of-life referred to the ups and downs of Microsoft's plans for Windows XP. Originally, Microsoft extended XP's availability by five months in September 2007 . But it then added to its lifespan several times after that, including an exception for netbooks that still continues, and an extension to distributors that allows them to ship OEM versions of the eight-year-old OS through late May 2009 .

The last was a move aimed at quieting complaints from system builders -- the smaller shops and computer dealers that build PCs to order -- who wanted to keep selling XP machines because of customer demand.

"The great thing for us is that we'll be able to install Windows 7 on new computers before Oct. 13, since Windows 7 allows installation without a product key." said Bach. "Then on the 13th, after we have the product keys from our distributor, we can pop them in and start shipping immediately."

Bach speculated about why Microsoft is letting system builders get a jump on larger computer makers. "They released Windows 7 to manufacturing early, and they've been very conservative on dates all along, so it's definitely ready," he said. "Maybe they saw no reason to wait, and decided that there wasn't anything to gain by holding on the OEM side."

Windows 7's final code, dubbed RTM for "release to manufacturing," has actually been available to some users for more than a month. Microsoft wrapped up work on Windows 7 in late July, and delivered RTM to developers and IT professionals on Aug. 6, then shipped copies to volume license customers at the beginning of this month.

This isn't the first time that Puget Systems has beaten bigger computer sellers to the punch. Last March, the company launched a free Windows 7 upgrade offer months before Microsoft rolled out its official promotion that provides buyers of Vista-powered PCs a free upgrade to the new OS.

Puget Systems will start taking Windows 7 PC pre-orders for early delivery on its Web site .

Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the early availability of Windows 7 through system builders.

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