Stability coupled with a flashy user interface will be the main selling points when Microsoft holds a lavish event tomorrow (Tuesday, February 13 at 7pm, UK time) for the official launch of the new version of its Windows operating system. For Macintosh users forever enraged by Microsoft’s copying of the Mac OS for its Windows operating system, the news will be all too familiar – except that this time it’s Mac OS X that has sent Microsoft back to the drawing board.
Microsoft has even picked a similar name to Apple’s – the new OS will be called Windows XP.
Bill Gates, chairman and chief software architect at Microsoft (pictured above), will kick the event into high gear as he walks the crowd through new features in the OS that amount to a veritable multimedia assault. Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs, however, will not be happy – as his company has based its future on the differences between its new robust and fancy OS X and Windows.
Formerly code named "Whistler," Windows XP should arrive by the fourth quarter and is expected to appeal mostly to consumers. The operating system was designed with a heavy focus on running media-rich applications to entice the Generation X crowd, or media-savvy people in their 30s, analysts said.
OS X vs XP Rob Enderle, an analyst at Giga Information Group, compared the Windows XP user interface to the Aqua interface in Apple's Mac OS X, which is due on March 24. Aqua has large rounded icons, myriad menu options, fluid control of applications and a bright-blue colour scheme. Windows XP should also be more user-friendly, modern-looking and showy than its predecessor, he said.
"The capability is there to make it look like an Aqua clone," Enderle said. "This is going to be a very Apple-like launch."
Digital hub/connected home Microsoft’s strategy is also highly reminiscent of Apple’s ‘digital lifestyle’ plan unveiled by Jobs at January’s Macworld Expo in San Francisco. Jobs said that he wanted the Mac to be the ‘digital hub’ that adds value to consumer devices such as camcorders, MP3 players and DVD players. Apple also added intuitive CD-burning capabilities to its OS 9.1 release.
Windows XP will also allow mobile users to access their information on a variety of devices, Microsoft has said. Microsoft calls this approach its "connected home" concept – adding features that help media content to be shared among devices in the home. Music files, for example, could be exchanged between a PC and an Internet-ready home stereo in another room.
Windows XP comes with improved applications for working with digital photos, enhanced music and video controls and CD burning software, Enderle said. Microsoft has said the software will make it easier to create, organize and share images and other media files.
Similar strengths One of the most hyped advantages of Mac OS X is its robust, modern architecture. Windows users should also be pleased to find their OS with improved stability. Windows XP is Microsoft's first operating system geared towards consumers that uses the same code-base as Windows 2000 and NT, which target business users.
"There will be a vastly improved user experience, particularly for the 9x users," Enderle said, referring to Windows 95 and Windows 98. "It is far more stable, reliable and secure than the 9x base. Unlike Windows 95, this actually delivers on the promises."
Its tunes In 1995, for the launch of its Windows 95 operating system, Microsoft enlisted the help of The Rolling Stones and its "Start Me Up" song. Rumour has it that Jimi Hendrix's "Are you experienced" might be the accompaniment choice this time around; however, one analyst said the glitzy new OS warrants a more contemporary tune.
"Given the audience they are going after, I think Britney Spears might be the right choice," said Enderle. "This is a consumer release. They want to push the multimedia side. A lot of early adopters will be the aging Gen Xers, not the aging baby boomers."
XP beta Microsoft would not comment on Tuesday's event. While some might call the company tight-lipped, the software giant prefers to see its secrecy as "building anticipation," according to a spokeswoman. Microsoft would say only that its software is in the hands of beta testers, and that a second beta release is due this quarter.
"Persuading users to upgrade is Microsoft's focus," said Chris Le Tocq, an analyst at research firm Gartner Group. "The people upgrading will be the icing on Microsoft's cake."
Le Tocq also thinks that Windows XP will draw more attention from consumers than businesses, although Microsoft's official line is that the operating system is suitable for both audiences.
Sub OS Tuesday's launch will also mark an attempt by Microsoft to sell its software on a subscription basis - a strategy it hopes will strengthen revenue down the road, according to Le Tocq.
"When you purchase Windows XP you will buy it at a low (cost) but will have to agree to pay each year," he said. "Our recommendation on the business side is that organizations not pay any more than 25 per cent of the upgrade price. I am sure Microsoft will go over that, but the question is by how much."
Along with the new user interface, users will find Microsoft's Windows Media Player built into the operating system; its Movie Maker software; the Home Networking wizard; management software that remembers log-in names and passwords for Web sites and servers (like Mac OS 9’s Keychain); and some text-to-speech capabilities.