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Windows XP Formally Launched

NEW YORK -- Microsoft Corp. formally launched its Windows XP client operating system for consumers and businesses on Thursday with worldwide ballyhoo.

Windows XP logos and skies decorated taxicabs in the Netherlands, buses in Mexico, a 27,000-square-foot banner in Toronto and hot dog stand umbrellas and napkins in New York. Intel Corp. hung Times Square with Pentium 4 banners, and Compaq sent trucks with video screens through Manhattan.

The main launch event occurred at New York's Marquis Theatre, with a Bill Gates keynote, Regis Philbin as emcee and an introduction from New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani before a registered audience of about 1,500 under tight security. A Microsoft-sponsored free Sting concert nearby drew about 5,000.

Microsoft threw about 50 launch parties worldwide, including a London event spearheaded by Steve Ballmer and a Latin America event with Rick Belluzzo hosting.

Windows XP is the follow-on to both Windows 2000 Professional/Windows NT 4.0 Workstation and the Windows 9.x/ME lines of operating systems. It comes in a Professional Edition, a Home Edition and a 64-bit edition.

It is currently available in 15 languages, and eventually will be available in 33 languages. The operating system was released to manufacturing in late August, and major OEMs have been shipping Windows XP systems for a few weeks. Volume shipping was expected to begin Thursday.

Windows XP's main features are substantially enhanced stability over the Windows 9.x line, due to its use of the Windows NT/2000 operating system kernel; a new user interface; and enhanced digital media capabilities.

During his keynote, Gates declared the "end of the MS-DOS era," the code that underpinned the Windows 9.x client software. On a large display, Gates typed "exit" at a C: prompt, despite pleas from a mechanical voice similar to that of HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey."

New features in Windows XP aimed at business users include remote administration helpdesk capabilities, an integrated firewall, more flexible networking for laptop users and enhanced system restore capabilities.

Most of the attention on the operating system thus far has hinged on privacy and bundling concerns as well as assessing whether the OS in combination with Intel's Pentium 4 can give the sagging computer industry and overall economy a much-needed lift.

Gates and other tech executives emphasized the economic angle by ringing the opening bell at the Nasdaq Exchange, where Microsoft (MSFT) is listed, and attending New York computer stores where consumers were buying Windows XP-based systems. Gates, Intel's Craig Barrett and Gateway's Ted Waitt autographed new computers and software packages for some of the first consumers to buy Windows XP in retail at a Gateway Country store in New York on Thursday.

Prior to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, technology industry officials were hoping for a major boost from the Windows XP launch. After the attack and its catalyst effect in accelerating an economic downturn, expectations for the launch have been much more modest.

In a regional gesture, New York Mayor Giuliani welcomed Gates onstage and noted that the launch "couldn't come at a better time for the city of New York." Giuliani added that Microsoft and PC technology helped in quickly rebuilding New York's emergency command center, which was destroyed when the World Trade towers collapsed. Microsoft made a public announcement last month that it would still be holding the launch in New York despite concerns about the attack.

There has not appeared to be great enthusiasm for the new operating system among corporate users, many of whom are in the midst of Windows 2000 Professional rollouts. In an effort to counter such talk, Gates said Thursday that 150,000 seats of Windows XP are already deployed and the company has commitments from enterprises worldwide to deploy about 1 million seats.

But it may take time before XP becomes ubiquitous in most companies, at least one analyst cautions. "Windows XP, as a business operating system, is probably the best product Microsoft ever offered," said Al Gillen, research analyst with IDC. "But we don't expect businesses to go out and buy XP right away. It will typically be part of new equipment purchases."

Some end users, while impressed with the stability of the new operating system, are still taking a cautious approach. The IT manager of one New York area firm said that many of his end users are still on 486 and early Pentium-class machines, which will not support XP. "I'm telling them to stay with what they've got, until they get new hardware," he said. "XP won't run on a PC with only 64 megabytes of memory, or under 300 MHz clock speed."

Criticisms of Windows XP have centered on Microsoft's new product activation requirement in Windows XP, the operating system's persistent prompts for users to register for Microsoft's Passport service, Microsoft's decision to ship Windows XP without Java, and the integration of Windows Messenger, Windows Media Player and other digital media features.

Industry pressure caused Microsoft to remove SmartTags, similar to the ones used in Office XP, from Windows XP in June; and Microsoft reached an agreement with Kodak in August after the imaging giant complained bitterly about the way Windows XP brought up Microsoft imaging software by default.

At various times in recent months, Microsoft faced real and potential threats to Windows XP's release by the U.S. Justice Department, by the European Commission, in the U.S. Senate and from an administrative action before the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

Microsoft met the launch date, which it specified back in early May shortly after some industry analysts suggested Microsoft may have been slipping in its release plans. Before that, Microsoft had publicly confirmed only the loose goal of shipping the client operating system in time to meet back-to-school demand

About the Author

Joe McKendrick is an independent consultant and author specializing in surveys, technology research and white papers. He's a contributing writer for ENTmag.com.

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