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Windows launch will cost record $200m bill

Microsoft is spending between $110m and $200m - depending on what costs are included - to launch its new operating system, Windows 95, tomorrow, writes Mathew Horsman. The upper figure includes $8m for the rights to a Rolling Stones song, Start It Up, which will be used for advertising well after the formal launch period, as well as advertising to support the rollout in foreign markets.

In addition to spending $5m on an "infomercial" to be broadcast in the US and screened before audiences worldwide, Microsoft is sending Bill Gates on a tour of the US and Europe, where he will rub shoulders with industry executives, journalists and trade buyers.

Mr Gates will be in London on 31 August, before attending a launch in Paris which 7,000 are expected to attend.

This will easily be the most expensive software launch ever, media buyers say.

Microsoft is also sending out reams of material to retailers to accompany the first few weeks of the selling period, and providing 250 million retail displays. The aim is to move as many copies as possible of the new program in the first few months.

There are a total of about 130m personal computers worldwide, three- quarters of which already use Microsoft operating systems.

The company has had plenty of free publicity through special supplements, articles in trade journals, extensive television coverage, and advertising campaigns launched by Windows 95 suppliers.

In addition, tomorrow's edition of the Times will be given out free, following a deal with News International. Microsoft will pay as much as pounds 400,000 to cover the cost of producing 1.5 million copies, more than double the usual run. The Times says the sales will count toward paid circulation, since the newspapers are being bulk-bought by Microsoft.

The company's publicity firm says the special newspaper deal will not be repeated in other markets. "Microsoft was attracted by the name and the fact that there is a real national newspaper market in the UK," a spokeswoman said.