The influence of the internet is changing the timetable of large software releases, forcing vendors to brief resellers at a much earlier stage.
Even before the release of Windows Server 2008 there were 150,000 downloads and Microsoft was forced to start issuing go live licences to support customers that had already started using some features of its new release.
Gareth Hall, Windows Server product manager at Microsoft, said it recognised that there were changing patterns and it had shifted its marketing budget to make more funds available to resellers pre-launch.
"We focused the investment of the launch budget on partner readiness so they could sell the value," he said.
"The concept of a launch has totally changed; when we had the event in Birmingham there were 2,500 people there and most of them had already seen [the product] and played with it," he added.
Mike Lawrence, managing director of reseller Bent Penny, said more people were using downloads as a way of evaluating products.
"Where there is a competing market for products, where you can download it and try it then it will be on your shortlist," he said.
"It is going to become increasingly common and a preferred market," he added.
One source said that although Server 2008 was a solid product the vendor would face some challenges encouraging users with 2003 to upgrade.
Hall said the most obvious candidates for upgrade were those customers still using its 2000 product but there were additions to the 2008 version, including the bunding of its Hyper-V virtualisation software that resellers could sell against.
"Server 2003 is a good product and does what it says on the tin. But there were specific things that people wanted and they wanted it to be cheaper and easier to run," added Hall.
Linux has thrived on making itself available to evaluate via download and increasingly application launches are being kick-started in cyberspace and the number of trial downloads touted around as evidence of the likely success.
Earlier this year Microsoft experienced the same level of pre-launch interest with its Accounting package.