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Consumers tempted by Windows XP

| Thursday, Oct. 25, 2001

Mike Romeo, a technical support worker at a local electric company, spent his lunch break Wednesday at the Gateway Country computer store in Monroeville, getting a peak at Windows XP, Microsoft Corp.'s newest operating system, which hits stores today.

Romeo, who builds computers for friends and likes to design 3-D images on his computer, is still undecided about whether he likes the new Windows system.

"I am trying to see how fast it works," he said as he quickly explored the system's many functions and visually striking design.

"The big question about Windows XP will be how well it can be used to install new software," Romeo said. "If it can handle new software well, it will become popular."

The computer industry's big question is whether Windows XP will be enough to kick-start declining computer sales - something those on the retail end of the business in Pittsburgh and nationwide would very much like to see.

Microsoft is trumpeting the new system today with lots of fanfare and hype.

In Pittsburgh, some 2,000 people have signed up to attend an event at Mellon Arena today, one of 62 such events simultaneously being held throughout the country that will include a speech by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates delivered via satellite from New York City's Times Square.

"Microsoft is pushing this really hard," said Latif Laari, the manager of the Gateway store in North Fayette, who has used Windows XP on his home computer for several weeks. Laari, whose computer is 2 years old and is not hooked up to a high-speed Internet system, said he likes the new operating system. "It is easier to use, has a clear visual design and is faster."

New Windows XP features include video-enabled instant messaging, digital photo editing and an improved music and video player. Users of older computers may have to buy more memory and maybe a new hard drive that can handle the new system.

Most computers built within the past two or three years should be able to handle the new operating system, said Chris Daniels, Microsoft's corporate account manager in western Pennsylvania.

To be compatible with the new system, he said a computer must have at least a Pentium II or Pentium III processor and 128 megabytes of RAM (random access memory).

Windows XP will cost $99 as an upgrade for previous owners of Windows 98 or Windows ME. For owners of Windows 95 or new buyers, it will cost $199.

Windows XP comes at an opportune time for the computer industry. For the first time in 15 years, sales of personal computers has dropped. Two months ago, the slump prompted Gateway to lay off some 5,000 people - one quarter of its global work force.

"The weeks after Sept. 11 were bad in terms of sales here in this store, just like they were anywhere," said Gateway's Laari, who thinks Windows XP, which has been on display for several weeks, has attracted customers' attention.

"People have been coming back to the store again and many of them are curious when they see Windows XP on the screen," he said.

In anticipation of a frenzied sales rush, the two Pittsburgh-area CompUSA stores, which normally close at 9 p.m., planned to open for two hours, starting at midnight last night, just to sell Windows XP.

Many customers are intrigued. And several at Gateway's Monroeville store were thinking that now is the time for an upgrade to an entirely new computer.

Neil Passall, a retired scientist from Westinghouse Electric Corp., came to Pittsburgh from Shropshire, England, some 40 years ago. Passall uses his computer to send e-mail to England and to compose music with a digital piano.

"I think this system is a quantum jump, and I plan to get a flat LCD monitor like this," said Passall, who bought his present computer in 1995.

"I think I paid about $5,000 for that computer," he said. "Now it is worth about $5."

Consumers like Passall and Romeo may be among those who are fussy about what they buy. Other people, like Carol Lynn Olejniczak, an in-home care giver to the elderly, just wants a machine that works.

"I know that Windows XP is the newest thing," she said after she and a friend, Daria Whittman, spent about 30 minutes with a store salesperson. "But I really just want something that will work quickly and that does not crash."

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