The technology, called Microsoft Plus Digital Media Edition for Windows XP and part of the Microsoft Plus product line, is designed to give people who own standard PCs more features for editing and playing with media files, without turning to entertainment-friendly Apple Computer iMacs or upgrading to more expensive systems like Microsoft's own Media Center PC.
Microsoft said the software is a first for the company in that it doesn't just come shrink-wrapped. People can order and download it starting Jan. 7 from a number of Web retail outlets. It will sell for $19.95 and include a $5 rebate.
The software's introduction is timed with the final release, also on Jan. 7, of Windows Movie Maker 2, advanced video-editing software, and Windows Media Player 9 Series, technology for the delivery and playback of digital media files. With a growing collection of entertainment technology, Microsoft is aiming to gain a foothold in people's living rooms by making it easier for them to enjoy music, media and image collections on the PC. Ultimately, the goal is to sell more PCs and software as people take to computers as an entertainment hub.
"This raises the water for tens of millions of PC users," said Richard Doherty, president of research firm Envisioneering Group. "It's a way for them to get some of the flavor and sizzle of a full media center PC from Hewlett-Packard or Gateway without buying a new PC. Even if they bought a Pentium 3 or 4 computer, this will bring them a lot closer to the ease of use of, say, the iMac."
In late October, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard unveiled their Media Center PCs, HP-manufactured machines running Windows XP Media Center Edition, a derivation of Microsoft's flagship operating system. The Windows XP hybrid features a second interface for accessing digital media features, including a digital video recorder (DVR) for recording TV shows to the computer's hard drive. At their introduction, the machines carried prices that were at least about $500 higher than those of average-priced retail PCs.
Among the new software's 10 features are special photo-editing tools and a tool for making CD labels. The Plus Photo Story, for example, uses Microsoft's Windows Media 9 Series technology to compress photos so people can send pictures with voiceovers and songs attached, according to the company.
The software also includes features for people to host a digital music "party" on the PC. Called Plus Party mode, the technology provides a password-protected environment for people to mix collections of music, add visual effects or create an interactive guest book.
In addition, the software has an analog converter to transfer music from cassettes or albums into a digital file. MP3 and WAV files can also be converted to Windows Media Audio (WMA) files or vice versa with a compatible MP3 plug-in for Windows Media Player 9 Series.
Finally, the technology lets people receive news and media updates on handhelds with Pocket PC 2002. It includes a feature called Plus Sync and Go, which syncs content with the handheld to deliver daily tidbits from Microsoft partners including GolfSpan.com, MarketWatch.com, MSNBC.com and Warner Music Group.