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Microsoft introduces Windows XP

NEW YORK - Last month's terrorist attacks scared droves of tourists from Times Square. Not Bill Gates.

The Microsoft Corp. chairman stuck with New York yesterday to trumpet the release of the company's biggest product in six years: the Windows XP operating system.

Appearing onstage at the Marriott Marquis with Rudolph Giuliani, Mr. Gates saluted the city's mayor and its people for their "courage, determination, and resilience" and went on to tout a product that for Microsoft lays the foundation for a new Internet-focused direction.

"Today it really is actually the end of the MS-DOS era," Mr. Gates told an audience of about 1,500 guests and media, a reference to Microsoft's original operating system, the underpinning of all the company's consumer-oriented Windows products until XP.

Mr. Gates then typed "exit" on an MS-DOS command line and the projected computer screen went fuzzy.

The idea behind Windows XP is to get consumers more connected - with better Internet tools and features including built-in wireless networking support.

And that positions Microsoft well. As a provider of Web-based services and an operating system owner, it is uniquely positioned to be a gatekeeper.

For users, the $99 upgrade to XP Home is Microsoft's best-yet stab at a user-friendly operating system, with plug-and-play support for a plethora of digital gadgets, an emphasis on whiz-bang multimedia, and an underlying code base that is practically crash-proof.

"It's got a lot of nice new features. But the most important thing is that it really is a stable operating system. It doesn't crash," said Michael Miller, editor-in-chief of PC Magazine.

Perhaps most obvious, Microsoft redesigned the look of the software.

Gone are the gray taskbars and aquamarine desktops of Windows 95 and 98. Windows XP sports a cool blue taskbar that underlines a desktop screen that looks suspiciously like the environs of Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Wash.: a sun-dappled meadow under a sky dotted with cottony clouds.

No one believes the release of Windows XP will lure crowds outside software retail stores, or spark the kind of boost in hardware sales that occurred in 1995, with the start of sales of Windows 95.

That will not happen," said Bruce Kasrel, an analyst with market research firm Forrester Research.

"In 1995, people were lining up because they wanted Windows 95. This year, if they're lining up, it's for the chance to win a new PC or a trip to Hawaii."

That's because Windows XP doesn't differ as much from its recent predecessors as Windows 95 did from its forerunner, Windows 3.1.

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