Whenever Microsoft release a new operating system, it is customary for them to release a package known as ‘Plus’ along side its release which adds a number of small extras. With the recent release of Windows XP this tradition has continued with the launch of ‘Microsoft Plus for Windows XP’.

So, what exactly has Microsoft Plus XP edition got to offer and is it worth buying? Well, in theory, Microsoft Plus is a good idea, you pay a modest £30 or so and you get loads of fun new features for your computer. The whole principle falls down quickly however once you have installed Microsoft Plus and you realise what exactly it has to offer:

The additions seem to be little more than a few new games, screensavers and visualisations for Windows Media Player along with a couple of mildly useful utilities. Personally, I feel that when you look at the Microsoft Marketing plan, they must purposefully leave these things out that could have quite easily been included with the Operating System or at worst as a free update over the Internet and then they charge for a few weeks later. In reality, the Microsoft marketing hype for this product seems to just hide the fact that you could probably sit at home and download most of the features included off the Internet for free; Media Player Visualisations and skins, desktop themes, a couple of simplistic games – These are all freely available from a number of independent sites.

There are a couple of useful utilities and in the interests of keeping this article as impartial as possible I will now look at exactly what the Plus package incorporates:

- Audio Visual Upgrades;
Included in this section is a series of voice commands that allow you to control Windows Media Player using your own voice using commands such as ‘Media Player, Play’ and ‘Media Player Stop’. There is also a program that will compress your existing MP3’s into even smaller WMA audio files, a CD label creator, skins and visualisations for Media Player as well as a program to help you create play lists of MP3’s for Media Player to work its way through.
Probably the most gimmicky feature in this menu is the ‘Speaker Enhancement’ wizard which claims to ‘Boost the clarity and richness of many computer speakers’. I ran this on my laptop and a friends’ desktop machine with two separate pairs of external speakers but unfortunately we failed to notice any change in quality whatsoever. I’m always slightly dubious about software that claims to improve the performance of external devices and this is no exception.

- Games
Included in this menu are 3 simple 3D games - Russian Square (a remake of the classic Tetris), Labyrinth (another remake, this time of the tabletop game where you navigate a silver ball through a board which you can tilt using one wheel on each axis of the board) and Hyperbowl (a very pretty bowling simulation which unfortunately is surprisingly dull).

- Themes
This section gives you 4 additional desktop themes so you can make your backdrop, mouse cursor, icons etc. resemble an Aquarium, Space scene, Nature scene or Da Vinci’s workshop.

- Screen Savers
Quite obviously, this includes a number of fairly impressive screensavers to complement the above themes along with a couple of additional unrelated screensavers added for good measure.

To summarise, quite simply as mentioned above I feel that Microsoft are trying to cash in on the XP name and hype by putting together this mediocre package and charging a loyal user base for it. Of course, it is not necessary for you to purchase this in order to make your computer run any better although it does include a number of mildly helpful utilities and features but I just feel that with the current retail price of XP that it would have been nice for these features to have been included from the start or as a free upgrade for registered users over the Internet.

Microsoft Plus XP is available through most computer retailers such as Dabs (www.dabs.com) for approximately £30. This package is only compatible with Windows XP.

Sponsered by Refresh Cartridges

Back to Main Page