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Microsoft will unveil its would-be PlayStation 2 killer, X-Box, next month during the Game Developers Conference in San Jose, California. At least that's what UK trade title CTW is predicting. It reckons Bill Gates will play second fiddle to Lionhead co-founder Peter Molyneux who will be on stage to demo his upcoming online multiplayer Black and White running on the X-Box.

Since X-Box is increasingly looking like nothing more than a low-end PC with a high-end processor and a black set-top case, such a launch is entirely plausible. Certainly the rumours of late tend to suggest a finalisation of the machine's basic spec. Microsoft - which sternly refuses to discuss the project - was expected to launch at last month's Consumer Electronics Show; but that never happened.

If Gates does join Molyneux, it's likely he'll raise X-Box as a concept rather than launch it as a product, much as he's been doing with various non-PC Windows products during keynotes of late. The timing of the appearance is clearly an attempt to get in there as close to the PlayStation 2's Japanese debut as possible - GDF runs from 8-12 March; PlayStation 2 goes on sale 4 March - which may explain why Gates is being shoehorned in with Molyneux.

Molyneux carries a lot of weight in the games industry, and his demo is likely to be very well attended. That said, you'd have thought Microsoft would have wanted something with rather more mainstream impact than a game trade show to launch such a strategic product as X-Box. This is why it's more likely to be a 'raising the idea' demo than a product launch per se, and does tend to the conclusion that X-Box will be a licensed product rather than a Microsoft-only product. ®

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