Microsoft unveiled a slew of new consumer-oriented products yesterday. The products, which will be available this fall (in time for the holiday buying season), include an online gaming service for the Xbox video-game console, a new Windows XP version targeted at digital-media lovers, a new Windows Media Player (WMP), an attractive new version of Microsoft's online service, several new PC games, and some interesting hardware products.
MSN 8. The most recent release of Microsoft's online service will include a dramatically improved browser interface with extensive Web and Web-services links. MSN 8 will be available to MSN broadband and modem subscribers and to users of other ISPs for a low monthly fee. The service includes a new junk-mail service, email-management tools, virus protection, firewall, better personalization, and many other features. Microsoft is planning an ad campaign aimed at converting AOL users to MSN.
Xbox Live. The online gaming service for Microsoft's Xbox game console will debut on November 15, the company says. Subscribers to the service can use the Xbox Live Starter Kit's headset to find other gamers, play games online, and communicate with other players. The Xbox Live Starter Kit also includes a 1-year subscription to the service, the necessary installation software, and a free mini-game. Several Xbox Live-compatible game titles will be available by year's end.
Windows XP Media Center Edition. This new release is based on XP Professional Edition Service Pack 1 (SP1) but ships only with new Media Center PCs from Hewlett-Packard (HP). XP Media Center includes a new Media Center application that lets users interact with live and recorded TV, digital music, digital video, DVD movies, and other content by using a remote control and an attractive new interface. Media Centers PCs are targeted to college students, apartment dwellers, and other people in confined living spaces, Microsoft says.
Windows Media 9 Series. The new generation of Microsoft's Windows Media products will ship by the end of the year, although public beta versions will be available September 4. Windows Media 9 Series includes Windows Media Player (WMP) 9, several new audio and video codecs, a new Windows Media Encoder, a new Windows Media Services component (part of Windows .NET Server--Win.NET Server), and a new software development kit (SDK).
Windows Powered Smart Displays. This fall, Fujitsu, Intel, NEC, Philips, ViewSonic, and several other companies will begin selling 10" and 15" Windows Powered Smart Displays. Wi-Fi, the 802.11b wireless standard, and Windows CE .NET (formerly code-named Talisker) power the displays, which will let you wirelessly connect to PCs in your home office. "Smart Displays will liberate consumers from their home office through the convenience of anywhere-in-the-home access to their Windows XP PC," said Keith White, senior director of marketing for Microsoft's Embedded and Appliance Platforms Group. "Now people can enjoy experiences and services like the Internet, digital photos, email, and Windows based-applications in a variety of relaxed settings such as the kitchen, living room, back patio or bedroom."
Pocket PC Smartphone Edition. New smartphones based on Pocket PC 2002 Phone Edition will begin shipping this fall from companies such as AT&T and T-Mobile. The phones are the first to incorporate Pocket PC features such as personal information management (PIM) integration, full-color screens, and advanced application support. These smartphones will also offer speaker phones, personalized ring tones, text messaging, and other advanced features.
New PC games. This fall, Microsoft will ship several new PC games, including Zoo Tycoon: Marine Mania; Combat Flight Simulator 3: Battle for Europe; and Age of Mythology.
Microsoft PC hardware. Microsoft will extensively overhaul its keyboard and mouse products with new wired devices that will ship in October and Bluetooth-driven wireless devices that will ship in November. Microsoft will sell the Bluetooth keyboard and mouse together as a wireless desktop solution that also includes a Bluetooth USB Transceiver that lets users connect up to seven Bluetooth devices to one PC.
"Consumers will truly begin to realize the promise of the Digital Decade with the broad array of products Microsoft and our partners will release this fall," said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. "With the launches of MSN 8, Xbox Live, Windows Media 9, and a host of other new or improved technologies only weeks away, the coming months will be among the most exciting in years for consumers and the entire consumer-products industry, not to mention Microsoft."