Microsoft to Announce Plus! for Windows XP
During the summer, testers silently leaked details that publicly unveiled many of the visual elements contained in Microsoft Plus! for Windows XP. At the time, Microsoft did not comment on what consumer expectations should be for Plus! -– a product that has become the traditional aftermarket companion for newly minted milestones of Windows. While a lack of specifics relegated discussion of Plus! to be limited to games, screensavers, themes, and Media Player visualizations, the folks at Redmond managed to slip in a few surprises.
Wednesday, Microsoft is set to officially announce Plus! commencing what promises to be a long marketing campaign on the coattails of Windows XP. Additional add-on packs are planned, some of which include several multimedia enhancements, rich digital photography tools, and volume licenses for home users.
Plus! reincarnates many traditional aspects of its predecessors. Popular themes that turn users' screens into aquariums, and bring them into the world of da Vinci have survived the shuffle to Windows XP. Eight new screensavers and 3-D games such as HyperBowl Plus! Edition, The Labyrinth Plus! Edition and Russian Square Plus! Edition have been thrown into the mix.
Features that make this release of Plus! somewhat unique stem from the DirectX 8.1 API and Windows Media Player technologies. The voice communication capabilities of DirectX have been ported to Plus! Voice Command, making Windows Media Player respond to the spoken word. In all, 35 different commands are recognized.
Special visualizations will also be waiting for Plus! customers. One a side note, one such visualization stars quirky video game characters from the upcoming X-Box game console that dance to music as it is being played.
Plus! Speaker Enhancement promises to "improve the sound of common desktop speakers." By specifying their speaker make and model from a list, users allow Plus! to alter signal waveform and frequency response. It should be pointed out that all retail versions of Windows XP include SRS WOW! Effects in the media player's Now Playing Tools. The WOW! Effects are not turned on by default and require user interaction. All users of Windows Media Player 7 enjoy SRS perks – meaning they can improve the sound of their desktop speakers as well.
Other notable mentions include a CD Label Maker, a conversion tool to transform MP3 audio into WMA, and a special playlist utility dubbed "Personal DJ". The file size of WMA encoded audio is roughly fifty percent less than MP3.
Users banking on full fledged MP3 support are required to purchase an add-on pack for high quality MP3 ripping for Windows Media Player. By default, only rudimentary support is included with sound quality equivalent to AM radio broadcasts. Another multimedia pack permits DVD decoding on systems without an actual DVD decoder.
According to Microsoft PressPass, an agreement has also been reached with Shutterfly that will place a range of enhanced services at the fingertips of Windows XP users through the online print wizard. Some examples of these services are photo finishing tools to remove imperfections such as red eye.
Microsoft's Jim Cullinan has announced a payback for home users as a result of the much maligned Product Activation technologies that are deeply imbedded within Windows. Families will be able to purchase additional copies of Windows XP for between $10-30 less than full fledged stand alone versions. Whether or not Microsoft would offer a rebate program has been the subject of speculation. Company representatives have denied interest in doing so in the recent past.
The Plus! pack for Windows XP can be preordered from a variety of partner merchants including Amazon.com, BestBuy.com, Buy.com and Walmart.com beginning tomorrow. Pricing is estimated to be $39.95 USD.