Windows is finally stable - Ballmer

At the Windows XP launch, Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer resorted to talking up the new OS on the premise that older versions are less than reliable

"We're expecting twice as many sales of Windows XP as we sold copies of Windows 95," predicted Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer on his visit to London this morning to launch the new operating system.

He also held out the promise of a "family pack" XP that would allow homes with more than one PC to upgrade several computers for a greatly reduced price.

Ballmer gave the expected booster speech, describing XP as the "no compromise" operating system -- both reliable, and compatible.

He also said that "anybody committed to a corporate roll-out of Windows 2000 should go ahead with that, and not disrupt their current plans" but that anybody thinking of upgrading from NT should go straight to XP.

Microsoft staff admitted that the launch would stand or fall by how well the new operating system ran plug-in device drivers.

The new software, Ballmer promised, would run all games, unlike Windows 2000 "which we hoped would be the no-compromise system, but it wasn't ready."

It will also cope with all digital cameras, and digital camcorders, he promised, in a presentation focusing heavily on domestic use of multimedia.

The presentation was remarkable for the way it attempted to describe XP as solving a problem which Microsoft was reluctant to admit exists -- the instability of Windows 9X.

"If you ask users what is the number one thing that bothers them, they will say it crashes, sometimes, or doesn't support some device, or doesn't support some application," said Ballmer. Then, suddenly coy, he explained: "People had to pick either the reliable one, -- or," (he hesitated) "they use one that was super-high reliability when we introduced it, but was more compatible with the old DOS family."

Analyst firm Gartner agreed that stability has vastly improved for Microsoft's consumer operating system. "In terms of stability alone, Windows XP Home is a dramatic advance over Windows 98, 98 SE and Windows Me," said Michael Silver, research director. But, he said, Windows XP Professional is only "an incremental change" from Windows 200 Professional.

For this reason, said Silver, Windows XP is likely to be rapidly adopted by consumers, but Windows 2000 will be the leading Microsoft operating system in businesses in 2002.

According to the latest figures from Gartner, 87 percent of new Windows PCs aimed at consumers will have Windows XP Home in 2002. In the business segment, Windows XP Professional will be in 16 percent of new Windows PCs in 2002, while Windows 2000 will be in 41 percent of new Windows PCs at the end of next year.

At the launch of Windows XP, Ballmer also conceded that the new licensing terms for business software had caused unexpectedly hostile feedback from corporates, "particularly in the UK and France."

The new corporate licensing system has been postponed while Microsoft negotiates with large customers. "We should have announced that earlier, but the feedback came during the holidays. Neil Holloway in the UK went on vacation in July, and when he got back, the feedback hit him on the head," said a rueful Ballmer.

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