Windows XP Launch Set for Oct. 25

Microsoft Windows XP, the next version of the widely used Windows computer operating system, will go on sale Oct. 25, Microsoft Corp. officials announced Wednesday.

Windows XP, hailed previously by chairman Bill Gates as Microsoft's ``most important release since Windows 95,'' will be available on new personal computers and in full and upgrade versions at retailers, according to a news release that did not give prices.

Two editions will be issued - Windows XP Home Edition and Windows XP Professional Edition for businesses of all sizes.

In a related development, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported Wednesday that Office XP, Microsoft's new office suite of software applications that is set for release May 31, will be sold by subscription in Australia and New Zealand.

The new payment model, which is not being offered in the United States this year, is designed to provide Microsoft a more consistent revenue stream from one of the company's most lucrative products, analysts told the newspaper.

The report was not addressed in the news release on Windows XP, and Microsoft officials were not in their offices to answer questions about Office XP early Wednesday.

Windows XP is designed to enable multiple users to save files on one computer while keeping those files private from each other, to give an authorized person access to another computer over the Internet to fix problems and to allow a PC user to access his or her computer from another through a new remote access function.

``Windows XP will be the highest-quality Microsoft operating system ever,'' Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer said.

The release also said the launch would be the biggest Windows marketing event in Microsoft history, doubling the investment of the Windows 95 launch in the first four months of product availability.

The subscription option for Office XP initially is limited to Australia and New Zealand because ``those countries have simpler markets,'' product manager Lisa Gurry told the Post-Intelligencer.

The report said a one-year subscription in Australia would cost about a third of the purchase price for an Office XP license in perpetuity. After the one-year subscription, the programs become unusable though files created under them remain. Renewals costing the same as new subscriptions will be offered over the Internet and at retailers.

Gurry didn't know pricing for New Zealand.

She said the advantage of a subscription is lower initial cost and free updating during the year. She said Microsoft doesn't anticipate subscriptions will bring in any more revenue than licensing.

``It's basically just another payment option for the customer,'' she said.