Microsoft sees green for holiday season

Resellers will have a merry Christmas this year, predicts the head of Microsoft Canada’s home and entertaiment division as he unveiled a line-up of products for the holiday season.

“”It’s been a very green back-to-school,”” said Greg Barber, looking at August and September sales. “”The momentum

is absolutely exciting.””

Exciting, of course, is a relative term, but Canadian retail analyst John Winter agrees that if nothing changes in the economy there will be a increase in December consumer sales.

“”We think it’s going to be up five per cent over last year,”” he said in an interview.

“”That will make retailers happy.””

He noted September’s employment figures showed growth, and that, combined with the fading over time of problems like SARs, the U.S. invasion of Iraq, power outages are receeding, suggests consumer spending will be modestly up.

Maureen Atkinson, senior partner at the J.C.Williams Group, another Canadian retail analyst firm, was more optimistic. Last year consumer electronics led the rest of retail spending, up eight per cent over 2001, and she believes the category could see another eight per cent December this year.

But, she added, it depends on the products vendors are rolling out.

The home and entertainment division accounts for one-quarter of Microsoft Canada’s revenues, said Barber, and over half of that will during the holiday period.

The biggest seller will be X-Box game consoles, he predicted, followed by hardware (especially mice and keyboards) and PC Games.

The company hopes the recently released tilt wheel IntelliMouse will appeal to business users whose spreadsheets always overflow their screens. The wireless version also promises better battery life — up to six months for average users.

Microsoft has not only come out with new colours, but also a new material for the pointing device: leather. “”It’s a fashion item,”” said Barber.

There are also mouse/keyboard combos, such as the Wireless Optical Desktop Elite, whose keyboard has a tilt wheel on the left side, which will appeal to southpaws. In addition to the usual hotkeys, it has five extra buttons which can be programmed by the user.

The company continues to expand its wireless offerings with the $150 Wireless-G Router, a firewall which uses the fast 802.11g specification.

Productivity software either recently or about to be released includes the Digital Image Suite, which includes tools for editing, archiving and sharing photos. The $189 package includes a $45 mail-in rebate. Another $45 gets knocked off with the purchase of some digital cameras.

In games, Age of Mythology: The Titans Expansion was set to be released this month. The $44.95 real-time strategy game introduces new gods and myths through the Atlantians.

Dungeon Siege: Legends of Aranna is an expansion pack to this action role-playing game to be released next month. Halo: Combat Evolved is the new PC version of the X-Box shooter game.

But the big game seller is expected to be Flight Simulator 2004, which celebrates 100 years of powered flight. Microsoft’s oldest game (20 years) adds nine historic aircraft and a helicopter to its lineup.

There are also high expectations for systems built around Windows XP Media Centre Edition 2004, which supports wide screen TV. Sony will ship systems in time for the holiday.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of ITWorldCanada.com and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including ITBusiness.ca and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@] soloreporter.com

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