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Microsoft unveils Windows XP Digital Media Edition

Microsoft will release a Plus expansion pack for Windows XP to enhance the digital media features in its desktop operating system. At the same time it will make available the final release of its Windows Media 9 software early next year.

Windows XP Plus Digital Media Edition, which is scheduled for release on 7 January, marks two firsts for Microsoft.

It is the first in a series of special edition expansion packs Microsoft plans to release for its operating systems. Microsoft previously has only offered one Plus software pack for each version of Windows. It will now release multiple editions for each version that enhance different features in Windows.

Plus Digital Media Edition will also be the first complete Microsoft product to be available as a download through online retailers.

Priced at $19.95, the software comes with a variety of applications and features enhancements for displaying and sharing digital photos and video, playing music and customising the digital media capabilities already included in Windows XP.

Microsoft developed one new application delivered in the expansion pack, called Photo Story, or creating photo slide shows that feature music, special effects and narrations. Users can drag and drop as many as 150 images into Photo Story and choose accompanying music and the software will arrange the pictures and music into a slide show.

Using new Windows audio compression technology, Photo Story slide shows can be saved as files small enough to send via e-mail or post on the Web, Microsoft said.

Also available in Plus Digital Media Edition is the final release of Windows Movie Maker 2. That software can be used to create home movies using digital video footage. A beta version of that software was released last month. The final release will be included in the expansion pack along with about 100 new special effects.

The Windows Media 9 software platform, which includes a new desktop media player and new audio and video compression technologies, known as codecs, also launches next month. Customers who purchase Plus Digital Media Edition will receive Windows Media 9 in addition to some add-on functionality for the software.

One add-on feature, Plus Party Mode, and can be used to turn a Windows XP PC into a jukebox.

Plus Digital Media Edition is one of several efforts from Microsoft to improve the digital media experience of its operating system. In addition, Microsoft has released a special version of its operating system, called Windows XP Media Center Edition, that features more advanced digital media functions. That software is only sold preinstalled on certain PCs from manufacturers such as Hewlett-Packard.

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