Microsoft Corporation will provide smaller PC makers with early access to Windows 2000, a first for the software maker. Historically, major league vendors such as Compaq and Dell Computer have had early access to Microsoft operating system releases, but with Windows 2000, Microsoft hopes to even the score by providing the OS well in advance of its official street date. As a bonus, the company is also offering small PC makers an extremely competitive price, especially on the Professional edition.

Small PC makers, that is, those PC makers that purchase 1000 or fewer copies of Windows per quarter, will be able to purchase Windows 2000 Professional from Microsoft in three-packs that cost $386, almost $100 less than the comparable Windows NT 4.0 package. Server Edition costs $725 for a three-pack, a price increase of about $85 when compared to the NT 4 version.

"We wanted to make sure \[small PC makers\] have enough time to get their systems ready for the launch," said George Peckham, group marketing manager for the OEM System Builder program at Microsoft. "Windows 2000 is more aggressively priced in three-packs."

Additionally, PC makers will be able to purchase a number of third party peripherals at a sharp discount because of a distributor agreement these companies have with Microsoft. Companies such as 3Com and Intel are participating in the program, which goes online January 24th. The OEM version of Windows 2000, which is designed for PC makers, will ship on that day as well