The update, or Service Pack 1, will ship to about 10,000 testers, according to the representative. As, it will include features intended to make it easier for consumers to choose third-party software over Microsoft's own products, in compliance with a brokered in Microsoft's 4-year-old antitrust case.
The service pack will introduce four options for managing, customizing or removing Internet Explorer, Outlook Express,, , Microsoft's version of the , and competing so-called middleware from other companies.
Microsoft iswith the change, even though U.S. District Judge has not approved the November deal cut between Microsoft, the Justice Department and nine of 18 states. Nine other states and the District of Columbia have with litigation. Lawyers for plaintiffs and Microsoft next go to court June 19 for closing arguments to the proceeding that could lead to stiffer sanctions against the software giant.
The service pack will alsosupport for new technologies--such as "smart" display devices, and the digital media interface--and will radically change how much control consumers or PC makers have over middleware components.
Even as Microsoft prepares the biggest service pack for its most-important operating system ever, analysts question just how many consumers will eventually apply the update.
"The problem with service packs--and this one is probably more important than most--is it doesn't register with most current owners in terms of downloading it or using it," said NPD Techworld analyst Stephen Baker. "Some of the improvements or enhancements in these things don't get disseminated."
Consumers applying Service Pack 1 will only get a peek at one of the new technologies, Mira. Mira deviceson the remote desktop protocol included in Windows XP Professional. Most consumers received Windows XP Home on their PCs. Only customers with XP Professional with Service Pack 1 will be able to use Mira devices when they become available later this year.
Windows XP: six months later
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Microsoft typically does not issue a service pack to such a large number of testers, but the number of new technologies and changes affecting middleware customization mandate a broader testing process, the company said. PC makers also need extra time to test different middleware configurations on their systems and prepare Freestyle computers and Tablet PCs for the holiday buying seasons.
With the new middleware customization feature, PC makers will have more choices in terms of Microsoft applications or third-party software such as AOL Instant Messenger and RealNetworks' RealOne player. This process requires longer testing, particularly because analysts predict a secondfor the Windows desktop. Following a Windows last summer, Microsoft competitors deals with PC makers for placement on the Windows XP Start Menu or desktop.
"All the PC guys have always said they wanted an opportunity to control the desktop, to control what people see," Baker said. "They have the opportunity to sell those pieces of the puzzle to cover costs. I am sure they will jump on that opportunity as fast as they can."
Microsoft expects to issue a final version of Windows XP Service Pack 1 sometime in late summer, but the schedule is uncertain depending on testing. Already, the Redmond, Wash.-based company missed its tentative May release date for the service pack test version.