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Microsoft touts new XP-ready PCs

The company introduces a campaign to market new PCs equipped to run its upcoming Windows XP desktop operating system.

Microsoft on Wednesday introduced a campaign to market new PCs equipped to run the company's upcoming Windows XP desktop operating system.

Under a program called "Windows XP Ready PCs," the software giant has teamed with a group of personal computer makers--including Dell Computer, Compaq Computer, IBM and Hewlett-Packard--to turn out machines that have all the requirements to upgrade to the new OS.

The program guarantees the computer has passed a Windows Quality Lab test for Windows 2000--the current operating system--and that manufacturers will provide any necessary drivers, or software supplements, to run Windows XP when the new OS launches in October, Microsoft said in a statement.

The launch of Windows XP and the new marketing campaign come as personal computer sales have slowed dramatically. Many in the industry are looking to the release of the new OS to give the market a shot in the arm. "We are hoping for and preparing for a jump in the (PC sales) category with the launch of XP," Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina said at a news conference earlier this month.

But analysts said the campaign is routine and is intended to prevent some consumers from delaying new PC purchases until Windows XP is released.

"This is pretty standard stuff," said Chris LeTocq, an analyst with Guernsey Research. "It isn't really meant to boost sales. The campaign is more of a sales-loss avoider.

"A lot of users think that (since) a new operating system is coming...they will wait until it comes (before they buy a new PC). Manufacturers are working with Microsoft to provide a low-cost way to upgrade on a PC that is ready for the upgrade. It is a way to not interrupt the flow of PC sales."

Giga Information Group analyst Rob Enderle said campaigns like Windows XP Ready help ease consumer anxiety.

"It means the configuration will work. This is the easiest upgrade process for users," he said. "Microsoft did this with Windows 98 and 2000. It makes a big difference. Sometimes users don't know what the upgrade will find when they try and configure it to their existing system."

For example, adequate memory needs may be a problem for early adopters of the new operating system, as will the right amount of chip power, analysts have said.

A Windows XP Ready PC must be preinstalled with the Windows 2000 Professional or the Windows Me operating system and have at least 128MB of RAM. In addition, the machine should have at lease 1.5 gigabytes of hard disk space, a 233MHz processor and a CD-ROM drive.

Some PC makers plan to include coupons for discount upgrades, while others have already begun including them. Gateway plans to offer the upgrade for $15. Compaq's upgrade coupon, to be included in computers due out next week, will let people upgrade to XP for $29, The Associated Press reported.

Microsoft has not released pricing for the new version of Windows.

LeTocq said there should be a boost in PC sales once the new operating system is released, but that like the new campaign, this, too, was not surprising.

"Anytime there is a new operating system, Microsoft invests millions of dollars in marketing, so essentially you will see a boost in...sales around that launch," he said.