LOS ANGELES – The chairman and chief software architect of Microsoft Corp. wants to take the Windows XP Media Center PC to the masses.

So far the company has only sold one million units of the home entertainment operating system. Most of that came from Hewlett-Packard, which was one of the

first vendors to build specific Windows Media PCs since its initial launch back in 2001.

But Bill Gates acknowledged here this week that for the Windows Media PC to really hit the masses it will be through the system builder channel.

“”We are saying this next version we will take it up by a factor of four or five (four and five million units) and move it into the mainstream with our partners,”” Gates said.

Microsoft has developed a business model that is based on high volume for these partners, he said.

Microsoft has also partnered with Dell Corp., Toshiba Corp., Gateway Inc., and Sony Corp. to build not just desktop-based Media Centers but also portable Media Centers. But, Gates said he is banking on the more than 800,000 system builders worldwide to build Media Center PC products.

However, to move the Windows Media Center operating system into the mainstream all of the single devices such as TVs, PDAs, CD/DVD players, memory music players and cell phones have to work together.

“”It’s the magic of software,”” Gates said, during a presentation at the old Shrine Auditorium. “”Software is the platform for system builders so that they can build on it and take it to new directions where no one could have ever imagined.””

Gates demonstrated several devices during his hour-long presentation. One device, an AudioVox cell phone, will be able to play music by synching with the Windows Media Center library section to transfer music files, photos and even video.

Gates added that Pocket PC-based PDAs will shortly have this capability.

He also demonstrated memory music players from D-Link, Roku and OmniFI. These devices store MP3 or Windows Media file songs for playback anywhere in a home, even the garage.

Microsoft also launched the Playforsure logo for retailers of digital content as an assurance the format is ready for these Windows Media Center devices.

But still there are some stumbling blocks to this vision, Gates said. Video, he said, is not where music and photos are right now.

“”The vision has to go beyond music to include photos and video,”” he said. “”Digital music and photos are exploding with rich content and delivery. Video is tough. TV broadcast is still mostly analog. Some of the new stations are digital and the satellite stations are all digital. Video today is where photos and music was four years ago.””

Gates sited this example: Through broadband connections people can download a compressed movie in 14 minutes on average. Four years ago that was a music file.

“”We got to make it easier,”” he added. With the Windows Media Center 2005 Edition users can mix video with music and photos together to create a slide show with music in the background .

Previously the Media Center came with only one tuner for video. The new version will have support many, including HDTV.

Another new area for the Windows Media Center is extender boxes allowing up to five Media Center areas in a home. The extenders will be sold separately or with an Xbox with an Extender kit.

Content will also be part of the new Media Center. Gates brought on stage singer/actress Queen Latifah for one demo where she showed the billionarie how to purchase a Lil Mo tune for 99 cents.

Services such as CinemaNow, Kodak Ofoto, Audible.com, Napster, MovieLink, and MSN Music, MSNTV Today, will be available for Media Center PC users.

Gates also launched the Windows Marketplace on www.windowsmarketplace.com, where more than 93,000 products from digital photography, to gardening to graphic design, to knitting can be purchased.

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