No new Windows Media Center version this year

Microsoft for the first time in three years plans to go without a new release of Windows XP Media Center Edition.

Microsoft for the first time in three years plans to go without a new release of Windows XP Media Center Edition, a company spokesman said Friday.

Instead, Microsoft plans to offer an update to Media Center Edition 2005 to refine some features, said Microsoft Product Manager Tom Laemmel in an interview at the Cebit tradeshow in Hanover, Germany. That update would be "bigger than your standard Windows update, but smaller than a Service Pack," he said.

An update instead of a new release should please existing Media Center users. An upgrade to a newer version of the operating system has been a hassle, often requiring the user to buy a complete new copy of the product.

"It is looking more like it will be an update, not a new version," Laemmel said. The next new release of Media Center will be the Longhorn version, he said. Longhorn is the code-name for the next version of Windows, due out in late 2006. A first Longhorn beta is set to ship in the coming months, but that beta won't include Media Center capabilities.

Each year for the past three years Microsoft has introduced new versions of Media Center in time for the December shopping season. The releases started with the original Media Center in 2002. The current 2005 version was introduced in October last year.

While it is still determining packaging and naming for Longhorn, Microsoft has decided that it will continue to sell Media Center as a premium version of the operating system for home use, Laemmel said. Earlier this year, Microsoft spokespeople had suggested that Media Center capabilities might be folded into the basic Windows version.

A Media Center PC is designed to be the entertainment hub of a home. It can serve media content to TVs throughout a home and includes digital video recorder capabilities. The update later this year would expand high-definition capabilities and improve product stability, among other enhancements, Laemmel said.

Windows XP Media Center 2005 is a key part of Microsoft's efforts to revive interest in the 3-year-old Windows XP operating system. Without a new version of Windows scheduled until Longhorn late next year, Microsoft is betting Media Center will move consumers to buy new PCs. Earlier this week Microsoft announced 20 additional countries in which Media Center will ship by year's end.

More details on Longhorn, which senior Microsoft executives have called one of the most important versions of Windows that the company has ever released, are expected at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC), scheduled for late April, and the Professional Developers Conference in September.

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Joris Evers

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