The release of Windows XP to original equipment manufacturing may spark a renaissance in the user who bridges the gap between consumer and commercial customers, according to Microsoft Canada.

The software giant unveiled the operating system update to PC companies Aug. 24, little more than two months before it will be commercially launched on Oct. 25. Dell, HP, Compaq and other major OEMs have already committed to delivering systems based on XP before the end of this year.

Manufacturers were given two flavours of XP to play with — a Home Edition containing a number of entertainment new media-oriented features, and a professional edition that introduces more security and manageability options.

But according to Erik Moll, Windows XP product marketing manager with Microsoft Canada in Mississauga, Ont., there could be considerable overlap in the company’s customer base.

The Professional Edition is targeted at the business user as well as the power user at home, while the Home Edition is really aimed at the consumer user. “There are distinct advantages as to why you would want to use Home vs. Pro, but from a business perspective it’s definitely the Pro model,” he said. “Out of the gate, our anticipation is that we’re probably going to see a lot of consumer activity, because the business typically goes through an evaluation process to check in terms of capability and deployment. But we do anticipate some good numbers from a small to medium-sized business perspective.”

Highlights in the XP Home Edition include increased capabilities to create and edit digital videos as well as storing and playing back music. This dovetails with the recent launch of Intel’s 2 GHz Pentium 4, with Intel Canada country manager Doug Cooper said was designed specifically with these kind of applications in mind.

“Digital imaging is one app that could lead to those upgrades,” he said. “You’ll see that a 2 GHz system will allow people to do a lot more with effects and so forth that wasn’t possible before without, say, an Avid workstation, which would have been really expensive.”

Cooper admitted that Intel and Microsoft will need to play a strong role in helping customers recognize the power of these sorts of applications. “Now it’s part of this big education process, but when you’re talking to them at demo days, I’ve seen the light bulbs go off,” he said. “People have hours of camcorder footage that they don’t know what to do with.”

Moll agreed. “I think utilizing the latest generation of processors like the 2 GHz P4 from Intel will definitely go hand-in-hand with some of the new capabilities in Windows XP,” he said. “Especially when you go into the digital video and media requirements.”

The main advantages between the two editions surrounds networking capabilities. The Pro Edition can belong to a domain, for example, while Home users will have to log on every time they are connecting to something. While both versions also include Remote Assistant, the Remote Desktop feature is only available on Pro.

This is a Windows Terminal Server technology ported down to the desktop that allows remote users to connect back to their office systems and run applications, the image and audio sent back to the machine. “There’s no data left going back and forth over the Internet; it’s all resident on your computer in the office,” Moll said. “The only thing you’re sending back is the actual display. So performance, security, all of those aspects are enhanced using this capability.”

While the so-called “prosumer” market has yet to fully take shape, Moll said the concept of a “power home user” may be already here. “I’m not just looking at the guy using high-end graphics,” he said. “If you’ve got sensitive data, if you’ve got home accounting — and a lot of people do that now anyways — or if you’ve got some personal information that you don’t to give access to anyone else, then to me, going with the Pro Edition is the only way to do it.”

Advanced features like multiprocessing will only be available on the Pro Edition, Moll added.

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