The clock is counting on the consumer release of Windows Vista and Office 2007, with the first retail copies of the new operating system expected to be sold in New Zealand as the clock turns midnight tonight (11:00 GMT, Monday morning).

All Blacks rugby star Daniel Carter will be at the head of the queue at Dick Smith Electronics PowerHouse in Auckland to buy the first computer loaded with Vista and the 2007 Microsoft Office system.

In buying the HP laptop he will become the first person in the world to purchase a Vista-loaded computer, according to Microsoft. Such a claim is impossible to verify but whether it turns out to be true or not a charity is set to benefit from the stunt. Carter will autograph the laptop and put it up for sale on a New Zealand online auction site, TradeMe. The money raised will go to Cure Kids, a charity for children with life threatening illnesses. It will be listed alongside 15 copies of Windows Vista Ultimate that carry Bill Gates’ signature.

In Australia, customers at the Harvey Norman store in Sydney's inner city suburb of Alexandria also have a chance to grab a copy of Vista Ultimate signed by Bill Gates. The store will draw a winner at 11:59pm Monday night and the software will be sold at midnight. The next 50 customers who purchase a copy of Vista or Office 2007 will get a C653 Kodak digital still camera and the first 100 will get a Microsoft VX-1000 webcam. The store is offering all customers 10 percent of all hardware between 11pm and 1am.

In Japan, electronics stores across the country will be open at midnight including several in the electronics mecca of Akihabara. Local Microsoft executives will be on-hand to assist with the launch of the new operating system.

While consumers have had to wait until now to get Vista and Office 2007 that hasn't been the case for all customers. Corporate users on Microsoft's volume licensing program have had access to the new software since 30 November.

(Chris Keall at PC World New Zealand and Darren Pauli at Computerworld Australia contributed to this report)