Gates to hand over XP "gold" code

Following months of legal wrangling and controversy, Microsoft is set to hand over the final code for Windows XP to PC-makers...

Following months of legal wrangling and controversy, Microsoft is set to hand over the final code for Windows XP to PC-makers today during a brief ceremony at the company's Washington headquarters.

Major PC-makers such as IBM and Dell said they would take part in the 15-minute event, at which Bill Gates will ceremonially hand over the "gold" code to each of Microsoft's major hardware partners.

Once in possession of the code, PC-makers will spend between four and six weeks testing and debugging the software on their own systems.

Roger Frizzell, of Compaq's desktop division, was confident that the handover would enable Compaq to begin offering Windows XP machines through its direct channels in September and its retail outlets on the official 25 October launch date.

"The main thing is that Windows XP is being delivered in a time that allows us to move to the market with our products," he said.

Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Giga Information Group, said the Release to Manufacturers (RTM) was a major accomplishment, for Microsoft and he predicted a positive reaction from the financial markets.

"It can be big, and it can be very material," he said. "When they make this date they are almost ensured that the product will ship on 25 October."

The release of the operating system may help to resuscitate the ailing PC industry, which has been badly affected by the worldwide economic slowdown.

"It's one of the biggest things to hit the industry this year and to hit Compaq. A delay would have been devastating," Frizzell added. "The fact that Microsoft is moving forward - it's just critical."

The only thing now standing between Microsoft and a successful 25 October retail launch date is the US government, which is embroiled in a landmark anti-trust case with the company.

Today could also see the District Court of Columbia selecting a new trial judge to lead the next phase of the case, which involves crafting remedies to curb the anti-competitive behavior which Microsoft has been found guilty of.

Once a judge has been appointed, Microsoft's legal opponents could file for an injunction to prevent the distribution of Windows XP.

The Department of Justice has refused to comment on whether it plans to take such a step.

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