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Ask Raymond Badel why he bought the public beta for Mac OS X, and you'll get an answer suitable to French existentialism. "Because it came out," Badel said.

There's more to it than that, of course. OS X is the long-awaited state-of-the-art operating system that Apple has promised in one form or another for a decade. Users are understandably eager to try a Mac OS that offers symmetric multiprocessing, preemptive multitasking, and true memory protection. And if that means coming from your home in southern France as Badel did, braving Paris traffic, and plunking down good money for a product that isn't even finished yet, well, c'est la vie .

Anyone can order the $30 OS X beta through Apple's online store. But Mac users who came to the Expo will be among the first to install the operating system; Apple is selling the beta on the Expo floor.

Little wonder why the line to buy the OS beta was enormous after Wednesday's keynote speech; some reported standing in line for up to 45 minutes. Things were less hectic Thursday morning, as attendees made through the line in under 10 minutes. Still, the flow of Mac users never tailed off throughout the day.

That's a lot of pent-up interest, especially for a product users can't sample before buying. At Apple's booth, interested buyers can take the new iBooks for a test drive, fiddle with iMovie 2.0 to their hearts' content, and see what all this fuss over the G4 Cube is about. But the only demos of OS X were being handled by Apple. Want to play with the product for yourself? That'll be $30, please.

As far as the Apple Expo attendees were concerned, that's a small price to pay.

"I've been reading about (OS X) in the press for a few months, found it interesting, and wanted to see what it was about," said Francis Bilard, who lives about 150 miles north of Paris.

Sebastien Dreyfus, a Canadian computer technician who currently lives in Germany, has already partitioned the drive on his Lombard PowerBook and backed up his data a month ago. "I'm ready to install it," he said.

And, after waiting in line Thursday morning, he won't have to wait for the beta to ship to him. 's Andrew Shalat, who speaks far better French than Macworld's Philip Michaels could ever hope to, contributed to this report.

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