Microsoft Canada Co. of Mississauga, Ont., is going to make sure Santa Claus’ sack is packed with as much new home software packages as he can carry for the retail holiday buying season. But, Santa will have to make some room in his sack for Microsoft hardware products as well.

Microsoft has

partnered with Hewlett-Packard (Canada) Ltd., also of Mississauga, for Windows Media Centre. Windows Media Centre is, as Natalie Tehrani, retail marketing manager home & retail division for Microsoft Canada, says, “”lounge-ware for your home.”” The Windows XP Media Centre is expected to enhance the digital entertainment experience, Tehrani said. The software features live television, PVR, digital music, digital video, DVDs and pictures all with remote control access.

This package comes only with HP hardware and speakers, but Tehrani added that if consumers decide they want a standalone package that Microsoft Canada would certainly consider it.

The Windows XP Media Centre is just the appetizer this holiday season, however. Microsoft also released its largest collection of mice and keyboards in the 20-year history of the company’s Hardware division. Come this holiday season, store shelves will be loaded with seven new products organized into three lines: fun, sophisticated and serious.

The new peripherals are: the Wireless Optical Mouse Blue ($64.95), Optical Mouse Blue ($49.95), MultiMedia Keyboard ($49.95), Natural MultiMedia Keyboard ($84.95), Wireless

Optical Desktop ($139), Wireless Optical Desktop Pro ($169) and Notebook Optical Mouse ($54.95), Microsoft’s first optical mouse designed specifically for notebook computers.

New products scheduled for availability later this year include the industry’s first commercially available desktop compatible with Bluetooth.

One of Microsoft’s standard products Picture It! will have a major face lift this season. According to Sue Borden, marketing manager at Microsoft Canada, Picture It! is now a digital imaging tool that is good enough for graphic arts professionals but simply to use.

The package includes instructional videos that, for example, will teach users cutouts and filters with layers. New effects include applying antique, pencil, chrome, watercolour and black and white to your digital photos.

“Its cloning feature enables you to copy and paste to allow you to rub out unwanted images on your photos and keep the image you want. This is good for old photos with cracks or if you have an old boyfriend you want to forget,” Borden said.

Picture It! also includes 5,000 clip art images and 3,000 templates for any home visual project.

At a suggested retail price of $159, the package comes with a hefty $45 rebate and another $15 rebate.

It would not be a holiday buying season without new games from Microsoft. And, this year, the company has released a realistic golf game called Links 2003 ($69), where the

user (after downloading his photo into the game) can play in a foursome with Sergio Garcia, Annika Sorenstam, and Jesper Parnavik.

“This is the most realistic game on the market with six new courses and with a expansion pack ($30) that includes 20 other golf courses,” said Lisa Webber, marketing manager, home & retail division for Microsoft Canada.

Also on the list will be Rally Sport, Zoo Tycoon and Combat Simulator. “We had Flight Simulator, but the fans wanted guns so we came up with Combat Simulator,” Webber added.

Also available this holiday season will be Age of Mythology, a follow up game to Age of Empires. That game’s inventor Bruce Shelley and his team, which included four Canadians, spent the better part of five years developing this game along with its 3D graphics engine.

“The 3D graphics engine really makes this game beautiful to watch. It is a realistic place because of it. The animals look real, but it is the little touches I like such as the waves and the wind blowing the trees. It makes it look like a real place,” Shelley said.

He added that they will be testing Age of Mythology for another nine more days and the product should be available in November.

Microsoft Canada will also have Microsoft Broadband Networking products ready for the holiday season shopping rush. The Broadband Networking product line was developed to give customers an avenue to set up a WiFi (802.11b) wireless network to share their broadband Internet connections, files and printers among all the computers in their home or small office. This will also be available in mid-October.

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