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NEW YORK-Merisel, a major wholesale computer products distributor, is preparing for delivery of 392 truckloads of Windows 95 software. VP-Marketing Karen Fuller figures that should be enough to get through the first month.

"It's huge," she said, shaking her head in amazement.

Windows 95 arrives Aug. 24, the second coming of computer software, bringing Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates truckloads of profits.

Mr. Gates had fewer believers five years ago when the first major incarnation of the software, Windows 3.0, appeared. This time, the industry knows to follow the leader.

"I learned my lesson," said software pioneer Philippe Kahn. "The lesson is when there's a paradigm shift, be there." Mr. Kahn's old company, Borland International, sank after being late to Windows 3.0. He's now chairman of a start-up, Starfish Software, that is readying two Windows 95 products.

Windows 95, an operating system that finally makes standard PCs almost as easy to use as an Apple Macintosh, is destined to be the new software standard and was the main topic at last week's giant PC Expo here.

"It's not a question of if, it's a question of when," said Jeffrey Anderholm, director of spreadsheet marketing at Lotus Development Corp.

Microsoft easily will sell tens of millions of Windows 95 copies in the first year, immediately dwarfing secondary products like Apple Computer's Mac OS and IBM Corp.'s OS/2 Warp.

Most new home PCs will come with Windows 95 as standard starting in August. Retailers, meanwhile, will push Windows 95 upgrades for existing PC owners.

PC marketers are trying to gain an edge. Gateway 2000, the leading U.S. mail-order PC marketer, is offering a free Windows 95 upgrade to anyone who buys a PC now.

Toshiba America Information Systems, the top portable PC seller, in August will install Windows 95 on all consumer models and put both Windows 3.1 and Windows 95 on business PCs.

Microsoft faces a marketing challenge since Windows 95 doesn't look as radically different as, say, Windows did when it replaced MS-DOS in 1990.

But Windows 95 will get a massive TV and print campaign, from Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., and Anderson & Lembke, San Francisco. Computer retailers will run special promotions.

The big winner in software applications will be, not surprisingly, Microsoft. The marketer hopes to have a new version of Microsoft Office, the industry's biggest product with more than 80% of the so-called suite market, ready on Windows 95's launch day. Last week, Microsoft sent out "preview" versions of the software to 125,000 influential users worldwide.

To keep sales moving before launch, Microsoft soon will offer a free upgrade to anyone who buys the old version.

Where are the suites of rivals Novell and Lotus? Late. Novell didn't begin work on its suite till this January, a year after Microsoft, and it won't be ready until late this year. Lotus is expected to have its new suite on the market this fall.

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