Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me) is off to a torrid start, selling 250,000 units in its first four days of retail availability. According to a report by market research firm PC Data, Microsoft's new operating system could be the catalyst for increased consumer PC sales this holiday season, and the company estimates that Windows Me will easily sell over 1 million units at retail by the end of the month. That's impressive, because Windows typically sells most copies as machine bundles with new PCs. Given this estimate, it's conceivable that Windows Me will sell about 20 million copies late this year.

"The product's arrival has already given a boost to lagging retail software sales and promises to provide a push for fourth quarter sales in all software categories. Windows Me is the most important new piece of software in 2000,'' said PC Data senior director of research Roger Lanctot, apparently forgetting about a little release earlier this year called Windows 2000. On the other hand, Windows Me targets a bigger audience than Windows 2000, at least temporarily. Lanctot noted that Windows Me's core strengths--integrated digital music, video, home networking, and Internet capabilities--is exactly what the consumer market was looking for. PC Data says that Microsoft should easily sell 400,000 copies of Windows Me at retail by the end of the month. A new low-cost "Step-Up" version for Windows 98 upgraders is seen as a key reason for the heightened retail sales.

Microsoft has yet to release any sales figures for the new OS, and its launch event was a decidedly low-key affair that was broadcast only over the Web. The launch event, which featured celebrity guest host Bill Nye the Science Guy, was goofy at best. But the company seems to understand the target market for the product, which eschews any business pretense for straight-out consumer appeal