Microsoft makes XP Media Center less exclusive

Selling Windows XP Media Center Edition PCs will soon no longer be the exclusive domain of mostly large, multinational PC makers.

In an effort to boost sales of premium versions of Windows, Microsoft will make the superset of Window XP Professional Edition available also to the system builder channel. This means that white box makers -- the PC stores selling systems with no brand name -- will also be able to build and sell Media Center PCs.

"We've recognized that our work with Media Center going only through our large, predominantly multinational OEMs is something that we could actually take further if we were to directly engage the system builders channel," the head of Microsoft's Windows client business, Senior Vice President Will Poole, said in a presentation at the company's Worldwide Partner Conference.

Windows XP Media Center Edition PCs have proven quite popular, according to industry analysts. The systems come with a remote control, a TV tuner card and a large hard disk drive. Users can watch DVDs, manage digital audio, video and pictures, and play, pause and record live television, in addition to using the PC for traditional tasks such as word processing.

Because of the additional hardware and the expanded software, Media Center PCs typically are more expensive than standard PCs. The product was launched in late 2002 with the first systems sold by Hewlett-Packard Co. Today several big name PC makers, or OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) sell Media Center PCs.

Microsoft has partnered with ATI Technologies Inc. and Nvidia Corp. to create hardware bundles for system builders so they can quickly build Media Center PCs. Additionally, the Designed for Windows logo program will be expanded to include the Media Center software to make it easy to identify compatible hardware, Poole said.

Windows XP Media Center will be available for system builders to sell in the 13 countries the product has been customized for, which include the U.S., Canada, the U.K., France, Germany, China and Japan. The software is scheduled to be available to system builders in September, with the first consumer products expected to hit the market in October, Poole said.

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