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WinXP SP1 to combine new goodies with the fixes

Effectively, the next generation is being slipstreamed into this one

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Microsoft will ship Service Pack 1 in Q3 this year, a little later than expected. But from the sound of it the company is planning SP1 more as a bundle of goodies and enhancements than as a plain old fix roll-up. It'll include support for the Mira and Freestyle technologies Microsoft intends to unleash on us, and will also apparently support Tablet PCs, which are due out later this year.

This is interesting for a number of reasons. A couple of years back Microsoft responded to moans from the corporate market about new features being bundled into service packs by promising to cut it out. The point was that IT managers do need the fixes in service packs, but it's a major headache for them to have to deal with new stuff they haven't tested, and might not even want to roll out to their users. Keeping service packs and the polished chrome and wire wheels stuff separate was therefore good from their point of view, and in an odd sort of way turned out to be good from Microsoft's point of view. If you've got a bundle of cool new features you can always stick them into the operating system and - voila - you've got a whole new operating system you can sell during the holiday season. But it appears likely Microsoft will also end up doing a more trad version of SP1 for businesses.

On the subject of the annual OS rev, here's another interesting thing. Freestyle and Mira are intended as enabling technologies for the home, Mira being support for smart displays, while Freestyle is for home entertainment/multimedia systems. They are not obviously receptive to being sold as separate new operating systems, indeed as they're only going to be any use if you've got the right hardware, there seems precious little point in Microsoft even thinking about selling them as separate software products. Tablet PC, meanwhile, was originally touted as running Windows XP, Tablet Edition. Again, not a lot of point in buying this separately from the hardware, but you can see what's missing from this picture.

Where, then, is this year's minor OS rev, revenue quick fixes for the use of? The next version of XP is next year so, good heavens, it really is starting to look like there isn't one.

We don't think this means Microsoft has reformed as such; rather, the company may have figured out a less wasteful way to make more money. The new OS hypefest that has been pretty much annual for quite some time now shouts about how great the product is, and afterwards people are left wondering, well, why. The answer to this, if there's an answer at all, is usually to do with all of the cool things you can do with all of the great hardware it now supports. You haven't bought the great hardware yet? Well, there you go then...

Microsoft makes its money if more hardware gets sold, and if Microsoft software is the standard that enables that hardware, then it will be bundled with that hardware, more hardware gets sold, and so on. Microsoft is now also pretty much specifying that new hardware itself, so it makes sense just to push the hardware, and forget about saying stupid stuff about how great Windows is on its own (although we confidently predict Bill will be unable to give up doing this).

One other aspect of SP1 will be that it will include the various changes required by the DoJ antitrust settlement. These, although hardly stellar, inconvenience the Microsoft of old in that they're intended to let competitors get their products into the Windows desktop space, and to allow people to remove the Microsoft stuff they replace. One of the latest amendments made, incidentally, is that MS and the DoJ have agreed that Microsoft won't be allowed to say nasty things about rivals in the add/remove dialogues. "Gee, but Navigator really stinks, and what kind of a name is Mozzilla anyway? Are you sure? I mean really, really, sure? Y/N". We may get back to the wondrous renegotiated terms later.

Whatever, Microsoft still doesn't want many people actually ripping its software out and slotting in alternatives instead, and we suspect that the Microsoft-specified hardware and enabling technologies gambit is part of an answer here. By making Windows more hardware specific, more tied into specific types of hardware, the company is strengthening its hold. Windows as a general purpose operating system is (by order of the court) more receptive to running non-Microsoft software, but Windows as an ever-broadening range of special-purpose implementations, running on special-purpose hardware designs, is considerably less so. So maybe we're positioning ourselves one jump ahead of the government. Again. ®

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