updated 11/13/2006 5:21:17 PM ET 2006-11-13T22:21:17

Microsoft Corp. will sell licenses for its new Windows Vista operating system and Office 2007 productivity suite through CompUSA stores Nov. 30, two months before the products go on sale at other retailers.

The world’s largest software company said Monday that customers will be able to buy licensing agreements to run Windows Vista Business and Microsoft Office Small Business 2007 on five or more personal computers.

(MSNBC.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal News.)

The move will put small businesses on the same footing as larger rivals, who also will be able to buy the new operating system and business software ahead of the general release scheduled for Jan. 30.

The companies declined to discuss financial terms of their agreement. A Microsoft executive said the Redmond, Wash.-based company expects to sell Vista licensing agreements through other retailers next year.

This is the first time Microsoft has allowed small business customers to buy licenses for new operating system before the general public, said Cindy Bates, general manager of small business sales at the software company.

“Over 50 percent of our small business customers shop (for software) in retail stores,” Bates said. “Last time, if you walked into store you were only able to buy the boxed product, which is more expensive and less easy to manage.”

Once inside a CompUSA store, small-business customers will need to speak to a sales representative to buy a license agreement. That interaction will give the store and Microsoft a chance to sell the customer other products, such as the software company’s support program.

Bates said licensing several PCs would be at least 10 percent cheaper than if a small business owner simply bought boxes containing discs with Vista and the office software. The suggested retail price for a boxed copy of Windows Vista Business is $299, or $199 for an upgrade from a previous version. The small-business edition of Office 2007 in a box carries a suggested price of $449 ($279 for an upgrade).

Bill Maddox, an executive vice president at Dallas-based CompUSA, said the launch of Windows XP was “huge” for privately held CompUSA, “and we expect this to be the same.”

Bates declined to discuss negotiations between Microsoft and CompUSA, but said at least two other retailers were aware of the agreement before it was announced Monday.

“They were aware of the opportunity, and I think they will pay a lot of attention to this,” she said, adding that it was “not really a bidding situation.”

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