Love at first byte for the followers of PC fashion

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The Independent Online

Technology Correspondent

The 150-odd customers waiting to be the first in Britain to buy Windows 95, at the PC World store in Croydon, south London, clearly shared the motivation of the voice emanating from the store's speakers. It was the speaking clock, counting calmly down to midnight and the official launch of Microsoft's new product.

There were no whoops of joy or yells of delight from the aisles, just a calm, orderly line of people waiting to board the bandwagon that yesterday rolled around the world.

From Auckland, New Zealand, to Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond, near Seattle on the west coast of the US, the most-hyped software launch in history has been big on showmanship, but left the ordinary punter a little bemused.

In Britain, 14 of the 16 branches of PC World, the Dixons subsidiary, stayed open until 1am yesterday morning.

In Croydon, the first buyer was Anthony Meadows, who works as the information technology partner at a chartered accountancy based in Hassocks. "It's for business use," he said. "I've got to know what's happening in the computing field. It's going to make a difference to a lot of my clients."

Other customers were equally unaffected by the razzmatazz. "People don't really know why they're buying it," said Tom Cranstoun, a programmer who came along "to observe".

Some were more wary. "I have been warned that it can trash your hard disc," said Andrew Hyner, who works for the cable company Nynex. "So I've been warned to back up all my files."

Shops across the UK estimated that they had sold hundreds of copies of the program by last night, and expected to sell at least 10,000 by the end of the weekend.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has been busy with publicity stunts worldwide. In Sydney, a barge in the harbour carried a Windows logo four storeys high, while in New York, the logo was represented by lighting up the Empire State Building in red, yellow and blue.

However, the news has not all been good for Microsoft. The US Justice Department announced that it is still investigating whether Microsoft has acted anti-competitively by including a function that can automatically connect the user to a paid-for, online service called Microsoft Network.

Janet Reno, the US Attorney General, said the government's investigation was continuing and that the anti-trust division would "consider all evidence that is appropriate". If the investigation rules against Microsoft, future copies of Windows 95 might have to remove the built-in link.

In Russia and Hong Kong, pirated versions spoilt the party by pre- empting the launch and undercutting prices. "Windows 95 has been circulating in Moscow for at least six months," said Alexander Konstantinov, commercial director of Computerland, a PC store in central Moscow. "This is Russia. What else did you expect?"

Miles Kington, page 15