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Windows Media Center continues overseas march

Microsoft plans to announce on Monday that its Media Center OS is moving into new countries, even as the software maker works to make it more ready for prime time.

Microsoft plans to announce on Monday that its Media Center operating system is moving into new countries, even as the software maker works to make the entertainment software more ready for prime time.

After launching the operating system in the United States and Korea, Microsoft has slowly been introducing it in more countries. The company is set to announce Monday that the operating system will reach Australia, Austria, Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland by the end of the year.

The geographic expansion comes as the company is also trying to get computer makers to improve the quality of machines based on Windows XP Media Center Edition. Several sessions at last week's were devoted to ways of making Media Center PCs better.

Audiovisual quality has been a particular sticking point, Microsoft executives said at the conference, pointing out that people expect the sound and picture on a $1,500 media-oriented PC to be at least as good as those from a $99 DVD player. In many cases, though, that hasn't been the case with the first crop of Media Center PCs, they said.

In a presentation Thursday, Windows eHome director Keith Laepple said that display makers, graphics chipmakers, tuner makers and PC makers all had work to do to improve the quality of the Media Center PCs that hit store shelves.

"Every company in the food chain...has a role to play," he said.

Microsoft also has work to do, Laepple said. The company is in the testing stage on a of the Media Center software, a that has an extra interface to help people view photos, music and video on a television hooked up to a PC.

Among the new features in the release that comes out later this year will be support for a new kind of set-top box, dubbed Media Center Extenders, that allows content stored on a Media Center in one room to be played on a TV in another room. This is important since still only about a third of Media Center PCs are being placed in the living room--the main place where TV watching goes on.

Getting the kinks ironed out is critical for Microsoft as the company tries to move Media Center from a niche player to more of a mainstream product.

Some have suggested that the Media Center software is shaping up to be Microsoft's standard operating system for consumers.

Although Microsoft executives have been hesitant to say as much, they did include this sentiment in the press release for the geographic expansion, quoting Jupiter Research analyst Avi Greengart as saying "Windows XP Media Center PCs will become the standard OS for midlevel PCs and various desktop replacement notebooks over the next 12 to 18 months."