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As consumers wait for the latest version of Microsoft’s Windows Vista operating system to hit the shelves, Hewlett-Packard and Gateway are each angling for the best way to sell the new OS to their customers.

On Jan. 29, one day before the official launch, both companies announced that they would offer support and products that use the consumer version of Vista. While HP emphasized its package of service and support for users of the new OS, Gateway concentrated on the benefits to its consumer and small business base.

Microsoft first launched the enterprise version of Vista on Nov. 30, and the consumer version is officially slated for release on Jan. 30, although several OEMs have already begun placing emphasis on how they are best prepared for the OS’ roll out.

On Jan. 26, Dell announced it would take early orders for Vista, while Lenovo Group announced that its new small form factor desktop would come bundled with both the OS’ business and basic home versions.

On Jan. 29, HP announced that it would support Vista across its consumer line of desktops and notebooks, including some of the new home entertainment PCs the company introduced at the International CES earlier this month.

Click here to read what eWEEK’s Jason Brooks thinks about Vista.

In addition, HP, which is based in Palo Alto, Calif., announced that it would place a premium on offering services to those customers who either want to install Vista or upgrade to it from Windows XP. One paid service offers one-on-one assistance for either $59.99 for 45 minutes of support or $99.99 for 75 minutes.

“In order for business customers of all sizes to more effectively collaborate and improve productivity, HP supports and customizes Windows Vista, the 2007 Microsoft Office system and Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 across its enterprise hardware, software and services offerings,” the company said in a statement.

Gateway, which is based in Irvine, Calif., used Vista to launch a new desktop line, the DX430 series, and a new laptop, the NX270, which the company hopes appeals to consumers, small and midsize businesses, and vertical markets, such as education.

Richard Shim, an analyst with IDC, said both the strength of Vista and its weakness is that it offers a broad array of features. For OEMs, the key to leveraging Vista is emphasizing the specific features to a specific audience.

SMBs, for example, want to hear that Vista offers a stable platform, while consumers want to know how easy it will be to upgrade from XP to Vista, Shim said.

“The right strategy is to focus on those core features and then to figure out what those core features mean to different people,” Shim said.

For HP, the company has to appeal to its base of mainstream PC users and what version of Vista—Basic, Premium or Ultimate—they need. For Gateway, Vista is a chance to reconnect with tech enthusiasts, as well as expand its reach with small businesses.

HP, Gateway and other OEMs have been pushing the consumer and small business aspects of Vista. Since it will take at least 12 to 18 months for enterprises to adopt the OS, according to analysts, these PC makers are turning to the consumer and SMB markets to help sales until the enterprise space decides to upgrade.

Click here to read more about HP and thin clients.

Shim believes OEMs will watch their consumer PC shipments grow to some extent this year, while full effect of Vista on enterprise-class PCs shipment will not be felt until next year.

In terms of sales, recent studies by IDC and Gartner place Gateway behind HP and Dell in U.S. PC shipments. Those studies showed that Gateway accounts for about 6 to 7 percent of the total number of shipments in the United States, while HP holds about 25 percent of the market.

Those same reports also show HP as the top worldwide PC vendor for both the fourth quarter of 2006 and for the entire year.

While HP did not announce a specific new line of PCs for Vista, Gateway is using Vista to launch new desktops and notebooks. The company said it was emphasizing the new industrial design as well as the Vista offering.

Gateway’s DX430 series desktop comes in three models. The DX430B comes with an Intel Pentium D 915 processor, which runs at 2.8GHz, an Intel G965 chip set, 512MB of memory and a 160GB hard drive.

The other two models, the DX430S and the DX430X, use Intel’s Dual Core processors, which run at 1.8GHZ and 1.86GHz respectively, Intel G965 chip sets, 1024MB of memory and 160GB hard drives.

The prices for the three desktops range from $499 to $1099. The DX430 comes with Vista Home Basic, while the other two are bundled with Vista Home Premium.

The NX270 notebook, which has been redesigned to resist falls and scratches, comes with an Intel Celeron 430 processor, which runs at 1.73GHz, 512MB of memory, a 60GB hard drive, a 14.1-inch display and Vista Home Basic.

The starting price for the NX270 notebook is $699. All three desktop models and the notebook are immediately available.

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