Hundreds of people braved chilly weather in Tokyo on Monday night and the early hours of Tuesday to be among the first in the world to buy a retail copy of the Windows Vista operating system.

Major electronics retailers across the city and specialist PC retailers in the electronics mecca of Akihabara were open at midnight to sell the first copies.

At Tsukumo Denki in Akihabara a crowd of about 200 people had built up around 10 p.m. in anticipation of the launch. An equally large line of people queued at the nearby Yodobashi Camera store, which is Japan's largest electronics store.

Outside Bic Camera in the Yurakucho district of Tokyo a couple of hundred people also waited. Some were there to buy Vista and others appeared to be office workers on the way home who had stopped to take in the scene and watch the comedy duo the store had hired to entertain those waiting.

"I feel great," said Darren Huston, president and chief executive officer of Microsoft's Japanese unit, Microsoft Co. Ltd., in an interview at 1 a.m. Tuesday, local time, just after Vista went on sale. "It's a real testament to Japan. I don't know what other people are coming out on a cold Tuesday night in January to celebrate a new operating system."

Microsoft ran several promotional events in Akihabara up to Tuesday's launch in an attempt to build buzz for the operating system. The company views the PC enthusiasts that inhabit the districts parts, electronics and hobby stores as influential users who can drive sales among a wider user base.

"These are all just anecdotal data points but the sell-through of Vista Ultimate tonight, it really is the product that is in demand in Akihabara. And it really shows the PC enthusiasts wanting to get the very, very best in their hands," he said. "Really, just dramatic sell-through and certainly above anything I expected but they're a really, really critical audience to test, put their hands on and write their blogs about it and say what they like and they don't like and give feedback but as they do that I think they will influence a much bigger community around them."

Japan got a head start on most of the rest of the world due to its position just three hours west of the international dateline and the popularity with which Japanese people often greet the newest products.

Vista was due to first go on sale in New Zealand, where All Blacks rugby star Daniel Carter bought the first computer loaded with Vista and the 2007 Microsoft Office system and put it up for charity auction. The auction is to benefit Cure Kids, a charity for children with life- threatening illnesses.

As of the time of writing -- just a couple of hours into the new day -- the laptop had attracted 20 bids and the price was sitting at NZ$1,250 (US$871). Copies of Windows Vista Ultimate Edition "digitally signed" by Bill Gates had attracted six bids and were at NZ$500.