Microsoft has finally launched its Windows XP Media Centre Edition (MCE) into the Australian market.
MCE 2005 is being touted by the software giant as the ultimate consumer operating system. Via a remote control, users can enjoy a range of digital entertainment including television, movies, music and photography through a special user interface on their television.
Ninemsn was announced as the default online music service and MCE also allows users to chat online through instant messaging.
The launch was held at a Domayne store in the Sydney suburb of Alexandria in conjunction with hardware partners Acer, HP, Toshiba, Optima and Creative.
Acer and Optima will initially offer one model each, although the latter expects to have a machine that looks more like a video recorder on the market early in the New Year. HP has announced three flavours while Toshiba has launched two Qosmio notebooks at the top end of the spectrum. The 17-inch model sells for $5999.
Creative used the launch party to announce its new Zen Portable Media Centre. It runs Windows Media Player 10 to bring users MCE content while on the move.
The major brand MCE machines will initially be sold almost exclusively through the mass market retailer channel, although Acer is going through the Leading Edge group of independent resellers and Optima plans to let its dealer channel jump aboard next month.
MCE 2005 has also been released to 1500 system builders around Australia so that they can build their own versions of the digital consumer hub.
Microsoft said it had no plans to sell the operating system as a boxed product.
Speaking to ARN at the launch, Microsoft Australia's senior product marketing manager for Windows desktops, Danny Beck, said the idea behind releasing MCE 2005 to the local whitebox channel was to provide consumers with greater choice.
He said it also reflected how different the local PC market was to that in the US.
"Multinational vendors account for 90 per cent of the PC market in the US because that is where many of them are based," Beck said. "The whitebox and systems builder community is very small.
"When Media Centre was launched in Europe, we realised there were more systems builders and customer feedback was telling us that consumers wanted to be able to customise their machines.
"It is a similar picture in Australia and it is much easier to get a custom-built machine through a systems builder because the multinationals tend to design two or three models and mass produce them.
"Consumers can now go to somewhere such as Harvey Norman and visit a local systems builder before determining which offering is more suitable to their lifestyle. People with technical knowledge will most likely go to a systems builder while mums and dads will be more comfortable with a major brand."
Beck said it was also important for Microsoft to support the local ecosystem, in which almost half of all desktop PCs sold were built by the whitebox channel.
"Systems builders will be able to design a range of different form factors," he said. "They will also be able to offer value-added services like installation and support."
The launch of MCE in Australia comes two years after the operating system hit the US market.
For more on this story, see next week's edition of ARN.
Joris Evers in San Francisco contributed to this story.