Microsoft readies scaled-back Windows

With Media Player unplugged in Europe, Microsoft christens Windows XP Reduced Media Edition.

Less is less.

Microsoft seemed to put that message right into the name of its latest Windows version: Windows XP Reduced Media Edition.

Ordered by European regulators to sell a version of Windows without a built-in media player and denied a stay on Wednesday from an appeals court, Microsoft said it will deliver both Home and Professional versions of the scaled-back operating system to computer makers in January. The Reduced Media editions will be available only in Europe.

Microsoft group product manager Matt Pilla said the company wanted to be as clear as possible about what customers are--or aren't--getting. "As descriptive as we can be in the name, to reduce confusion, the better," Pilla said.

In addition to lacking a copy of Windows Media Player, the new version of Windows won't be able to do things like play a CD or MP3 file or transfer music to a portable device--at least not without additional software from another company. Among the limited media features that do remain are the ability to play .wav files using Sound Recorder as well as a moviemaking program that is separate from Windows Media Player.

"This is the first time we are being required to offer to consumers a version of Windows that provides them with less value rather than more," Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said in an

Customers who opt for the media-player-free version won't be getting a bargain. The EU ordered that Microsoft couldn't charge more for the version sans player, but it didn't say that Microsoft had to charge less.

"I am anticipating that it will be offered on exactly the terms that the court's--I should say that the commission's--decision permits it to be offered, which is the same price as the version of Windows that we offer today," Smith said during a conference call with reporters.

Those who do want the version will also have to head to Europe, as Microsoft said it does not plan to offer the software elsewhere.

"We have no plans to offer this version of Windows outside of the European Economic Area at this time, and I don't expect we'll have any such plans in the future," Smith told reporters. The EEA includes the European Union countries as well as Switzerland and Norway.

Smith said Microsoft has been working on developing the stripped-down version of Windows in advance of Wednesday's ruling.

"We've had technical teams working very hard over a series of months now on all of those steps, and there will be some additional work for the final stages of testing this additional version of Windows, but I think it's fair to say that most of the technical work is behind us," Smith said. "We do have some final stages ahead."

Microsoft said that all of the things that are supposed to work do work, though it still expects support calls from customers expecting features that aren't there.

"There's things that a customer is going to expect that won't work," said Dave Fester, general manager of Microsoft's Windows consumer unit, in an interview. "Customers (using) all operating systems have come to expect certain base functionality, whether it is Windows, Mac or Linux."

Smith did not say what the exact price tag will be for complying with the EU order, but did say "It's not the kind of cost figure that one would consider to be material for a company the size of Microsoft."

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