Gates launches XP, ushers out 'the MS-DOS era'

Politicians, celebrities, IT executives and a gospel choir joined Microsoft Corp. Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates in Times Square Thursday for a glitzy launch for Windows XP, the operating system that will "take the industry to new heights," Gates proclaimed.

With 100,000 consumer preorders, 150,000 business deployments and 30 million PCs preloaded with Windows XP queued up at retail outlets, Windows XP is already being adopted twice as fast as Windows 95, Gates said during his presentation.

For two hours, he served as emcee to a series of demonstrations of Windows XP's features, including its range of video, audio, digital photo and real-time communications capabilities. Cameo appearances studded the event: The audience greeted New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani with a lengthy standing ovation when he took the stage to thank Gates for launching Windows XP in New York. Gates, who visited Ground Zero yesterday, hailed Giuliani as a "true American hero."

The launch was tinged with reminders of Sept. 11, which Giuliani called "the worst attack ever recorded in the history of America." Against the backdrop of an enormous Windows XP logo, a gospel choir opened the event with a rendition of "America the Beautiful." Security was unusually tight: Attendees passed through multiple checkpoints to gain access to the presentation theater, in which laptops and wireless devices were prohibited.

After a somber opening, the launch settled into an upbeat tone. Regis Philbin, host of the popular U.S. television program "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?", took the stage for a Windows XP-focused round of his game show with Gates. Later, Philbin received a guided tour through Windows XP to demonstrate that even technophobes can take advantage of the new operating system.

A few bugs popped up during the launch: A real-time video link between the presentation stage and Gates, who was at that moment out on the street near the Times Square Jumbotron, took several tries to load, as did a voice-activated digital music demonstration. Microsoft's infamous "blue screen of death" never appeared, however, and Microsoft Vice-President Jim Allchin announced that in Microsoft's testing, Windows XP was 30 times more reliable than Windows 98. Users will save 40 hours a year through faster system and application loading and fewer crashes, Gates said.

He also highlighted the single code base now underlying Microsoft's operating systems, and hailed Windows XP as "the end of the MS-DOS era." To illustrate the point, he ceremonially typed "exit" at a C:\> prompt "for the last time."

Windows XP will drive $100 billion in industry sales during the upcoming holiday season, Gates said during the launch. But other industry executives expressed doubt that Windows XP will catalyze peak sales in the next few months. Gateway is not forecasting a "significant" boost in sales because of Windows XP, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Ted Waitt said during a panel session preceding Gates' keynote. While consumer adoption of Windows XP has moved quickly, businesses -- particularly those that have recently moved to Windows 2000 -- will upgrade more slowly to the new operating system, Dell Computer Corp. CEO Michael Dell said Wednesday during a Dell user conference.

One Netherlands-based corporate Windows user, interviewed before the Windows XP launch, said he's unlikely to upgrade the hundreds of machines he manages to Windows XP.

"An upgrade has to offer something extra. I don't see that with Windows XP," said Dave Prosee, Information and Communication Technology manager at Het Financieele Dagblad BV, the Dutch financial daily. Prosee manages 230 desktops, 60 laptops and 28 servers, all on Microsoft's Windows NT platform.

"An operating system should be robust and we have that already. The only reason for an upgrade would be hardware support. NT doesn't support infrared applications we use, such as PDAs (personal digital assistants) and mobile telephones," Prosee said.

He's more intrigued by Microsoft's Office XP. "That product has interesting new features, such as the smart tags," he said.

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