Gates 'opens' Windows XP in New York
By Graham Jones
(CNN) -- Microsoft has launched its new Windows XP operating system.
The system promises fewer computer crashes and will allow users to delete data from their hard drive.
Unveiled in New York and London on Thursday in what's being described as the biggest and brashest ever computer launch, the software giant is hoping it will be a best seller.
The launch of Windows 95 six years ago saw computer sales rise and the industry hopes Windows XP can help reverse the 11.3 percent slump in world computer sales since September 11.
Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates presented the keynote address at the product launch in New York. He was accompanied by leaders from the PC industry, more than 50 Microsoft partners, a special welcome by New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and an appearance by television's Regis Philbin at the event in Broadway's Marriott Marquis Theatre.
"Today is a great day for PC users and a great day for the PC industry," said Gates. "With the launch of Windows XP, we are entering an exciting new era of personal computing. This powerful new version of Windows offers so much to customers -- it unlocks the full power of the PC and enables them to enjoy the best of what the digital world has to offer.
"New York City is the perfect place to announce the worldwide availability of Windows XP," he said. "I want to thank all the people of New York City for welcoming us here, to congratulate them for their unbroken spirit, courage and determination, and to urge all Americans to join us in recognizing that New York is absolutely open for business."
The software was being launched in the Royal Festival Hall in central London by Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer.
In Oxford Street, pop group Electric Soft Parade aim to demonstrate the power of the new software by making the world's quickest music video in under four hours.
Meanwhile, Gates was to launch the product in New York, with Sting playing a free concert in the city's Bryant Park.
Smaller launches are taking place this week at other European capitals including Paris, Berlin and Rome.
Globally the marketing hype for XP (short if you hadn't guessed for the buzz-word "Experience") is to cost $200 million in its first four months and features Madonna's "Ray of Light" as its theme tune.
The computer giant promises celebrity surprises at its UK extravaganza.
For the launch of Windows 2000 in New York, Patrick Stewart of "Star Trek" was beamed down, although the one star definitely ruled out is the London-based Material Girl on the ad's track.
The PC industry is hoping XP will inject new life into a sector that has seen sales fall in the past two quarters and Microsoft officials say they're convinced new computers will walk out of the shops.
"We are very excited about Windows XP and the positive benefits it will provide customers and businesses," Simon Witts, vice president of Microsoft Europe, Middle East and Africa told CNN.
"Windows XP will lead to a reinvigoration of the PC and the work environment. Much can still be done to make PC users in companies more productive."
For their part, the PC makers -- recent company earnings down 12 percent across Europe and 16 percent in the U.K. -- have been pushing out "XP ready" computers to the shops.
The new software has already been looked over by some influential eyes.
During the summer's British election campaign, Prime Minister Tony Blair and wife Cherie visited the U.K. Microsoft headquarters in Reading. Cherie was heard telling the prime minister she'd give him a full run down when they got back to Downing Street.
Computer watchers say the new system is much more reliable (less prone to crashes), easier to use, with a better "Start menu," a snazzier look and brighter icons.
It's more secure with file encryption and restricted access.
The printer links are improved, there's instant messaging, voice technology and the multimedia applications are ranked by experts as impressive, especially for digital photography.
A feature called Compatability Mode fools older programs into thinking they are working with Windows 95, 98, ME or 2000 so they don't choke with XP.
It is also family-friendly. Each computer can be used by a number of different members of the household so dad's accounts do not have to be closed before the screen is set to the real business of Grand Turismo.
But the product has also brought controversy -- including the long-standing criticism of Microsoft that the operating system promotes many of its own services including the MSN Internet service and its Media Player software -- thus excluding rivals and curbing consumer choice.
As in the long-running antitrust case in the U.S., European Commission regulators are still investigating Microsoft's linkage of Windows to its Microsoft browser and Media Player systems though Brussels said it would not move to stop the XP launch.
CNN.com's parent company, AOL Time Warner, has said that the company's plans for Windows XP are further evidence of anticompetitive practices.
There has also been criticism of the XP registration procedure that involves contacting Microsoft with a unique 44-digit number to "activate" the software.
Rupert Goodwins of ZDnet says: "People are very uneasy about this. This gives Microsoft control of something you've bought, for the first time.
"And when you do something to it that Microsoft don't like, then they can turn it off." Microsoft defends "activation" as an anti-piracy measure.
In the company's marketing-speak "Windows XP builds on people's dreams, taking the power and adaptability of the PC to a new level" -- so says Bill Gates.
But will the new product build on Microsoft's own dreams?
Britain's Dixons -- which owns the retail chains Dixons, Currys, PC World -- says XP would drive sales in the autumn with still only 35 percent of U.K. households having PCs.
Industry insiders are sceptical and say that although bringing lots of fancy add-ons as standard, the technology is nothing revolutionary.
"Really there is not anything new in application terms," says Brian Gammage, principal PC industry analysts for the Gartner research group. "It is just an integrated version of what they've got already."
Gammage predicts "no significant effect whatsoever" on PC sales.
"There are enthusiasts who upgrade but these are a small part of the market, around 10 percent.
"People buy computers because they can do things -- not because they can do things a little bit better."
CNN Business Correspondent Jim Boulden contributed to this report
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