Microsoft to aim at media generation with Windows XP

Microsoft will stay close to home for the launch, choosing a venue in Seattle, Washington, to unveil its heavily retooled OS in front of press and analysts. Bill Gates, chairman and chief software architect at Microsoft, will kick the event into high gear as he walks the crowd through new features in the OS that amount to a veritable multimedia assault.

Formerly code named "Whistler," Windows XP will should arrive by the fourth quarter and is expected to appeal mostly to consumers. The operating system was designed with a heavy focus on running media-rich applications to entice the Generation X crowd, or media-savvy people in their 30s, analysts said.

In 1995, for the launch of its Windows 95 operating system, Microsoft enlisted the help of The Rolling Stones and its "Start Me Up" song. Rumour has it that Jimi Hendrix's "Are you experienced" might be the accompaniment choice this time around; however, one analyst said the glitzy new OS warrants a more contemporary tune.

"Given the audience they are going after, I think Britney Spears might be the right choice," said Rob Enderle, an analyst at Giga Information Group. in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "This is a consumer release. They want to push the multimedia side. A lot of early adopters will be the aging Gen Xers, not the aging baby boomers."

Enderle compared the Windows XP user interface to the Aqua interface in Apple's Mac OS X, which is due in March. Aqua has large rounded icons, myriad menu options, fluid control of applications and a turquoise colour scheme. Windows XP should also be more user-friendly, modern-looking and showy than its predecessor, he said.

"The capability is there to make it look like an Aqua clone," Enderle said. "This is going to be a very Apple-like launch."

New features

Windows XP comes with improved applications for working with digital photos, enhanced music and video controls and CD burning software, Enderle said. Microsoft has said the software will make it easier to create, organise and share images and other media files.

Users should also be pleased to find an OS with improved stability. Windows XP is Microsoft's first operating system geared towards consumers that uses the same code-base as Windows 2000 and NT, which target business users.

"There will be a vastly improved user experience, particularly for the 9x users," Enderle said, referring to Windows 95 and Windows 98. "It is far more stable, reliable and secure than the 9x base. Unlike Windows 95, this actually delivers on the promises."

Microsoft would not comment on Tuesday's event. While some might call the company tight-lipped, the company prefers to see its secrecy as "building anticipation," according to a spokeswoman. Microsoft would say only that its software is in the hands of beta testers, and that a second beta release is due this quarter.

"Persuading users to upgrade is Microsoft's focus," said Chris Le Tocq, an analyst at research firm Gartner Group. "The people upgrading will be the icing on Microsoft's cake."

Le Tocq also thinks that Windows XP will draw more attention from consumers than businesses, although Microsoft's official line is that the operating system is suitable for both audiences.

Tuesday's launch will also mark an attempt by Microsoft to sell its software on a subscription basis -- a strategy it hopes will strengthen revenue down the road, according to Le Tocq.

"When you purchase Windows XP you will buy it at a low [cost] but will have to agree to pay each year," he said. "Our recommendation on the business side is that organisations not pay any more than 25 per cent of the upgrade price. I am sure Microsoft will go over that, but the question is by how much."

Along with the new user interface, users will find Microsoft's Windows Media Player built into the operating system; its Movie Maker software; the Home Networking wizard; management software that remembers log-in names and passwords for Web sites and servers; and some text-to-speech capabilities.

While those text-to-speech functions have been much anticipated, Enderle does not think they will satisfy users just yet.

Windows XP will also allow mobile users to access their information on a variety of devices, Microsoft has said. The company will build on its "connected home" concept by including features that help media content to be shared among devices in the home. Music files, for example, could be exchanged between a PC and an Internet-ready home stereo in another room.

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Ashlee Vance

PC World

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