When Microsoft told consumers in July that its Windows 7 Family Pack would be sold in limited quantities, it evidently meant it: Over the weekend, holiday shoppers and analysts alike noted that the upgrade, which offered three Windows 7 Home Premium licenses for $149, had begun to disappear from online storefronts such as Amazon.com.
A number of message-board denizens greeted that news-which began propagating on blogs such as Windows IT Pro-with anger and borderline incredulity.
"This is the simplest thing for Microsoft to implement-licensing that makes sense for end users," one commenter wrote on Windows IT Pro. "Microsoft-Fix this! Family packs just make sense for about a million reasons and are common sense."
"I found this out the hard way when I went to try and buy it yesterday," wrote another. "Checked online (and can confirm the Amazon creeps price-gouging) and two local stores."
On Dec. 7, Microsoft confirmed that the family-license cupboard was indeed bare.
"The Windows 7 Family Pack was introduced as a limited time offer while supplies last in select geographies," a Microsoft spokesperson wrote in an e-mail to eWEEK. "Response has been very positive and in some cases, the offer has been sold out."
On Amazon.com, the only available copies of the Windows 7 Family Pack seemed to come from resellers, who were more than happy to charge prices starting at $279.88. The product seemed to be missing entirely from Microsoft's online store.
"Customers interested in upgrading their PCs should purchase Home Premium, Professional or Ultimate upgrade products," the Microsoft spokesperson added.
A family wanting to install Windows 7 Home Premium on three PCs will now pay around $357 for three copies of the upgrade version if they buy from Microsoft's online store. That represents a cost markup of $208.
The Windows 7 Family Pack, released along with Windows 7 on Oct. 22, was just one of many promotions that Microsoft tied into the release of its newest operating system. Originally available only in the United States and Canada, Redmond later extended the Family Pack option to other countries, including the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands and Sweden.
In what may have piqued a smidgen of ire among purchasers in the United Kingdom, the Windows 7 Family Pack there sold for 150 pounds, or roughly $246-a considerable price increase over the U.S. version.
The Family Pack and other discounts may have well accomplished Microsoft's goal, at least as far as the company's executives are concerned: Although higher-ups such as Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer publicly downplayed the possibility of sales success ahead of Windows 7's release, a large number of consumers adopted the operating system. A report by statistics company New Applications suggested that Windows 7's share of the overall PC market passed 4 percent by Nov. 9, outpacing Windows Vista's rate of adoption.
Microsoft doubtlessly hopes that a widespread adoption of Windows 7 will help the company reverse a declining revenue trend, driven in large part by an economic recession and attendant dip in sales of PCs and related IT infrastructure. During an Oct. 23 earnings call, Microsoft executives signaled that longer-term sales of Windows 7 would be driven by a potential pickup in PC sales throughout 2010 and beyond.
Whether Microsoft will revive some sort of Windows bulk-licensing scheme remains to be seen. For the moment, however, the company seems more than willing to position the Family Pack as a promotional gimmick.