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LA QUINTA, Calif. -- For all the talk about the enterprise segment,


(MSFT) - Get Microsoft Corporation Report

isn't taking its eye off the consumer.

That was the message attendees of the

Goldman Sachs Technology Investment Symposium

here were getting from the Wednesday keynote by Microsoft's newly minted president and chief operating officer, Rick Belluzzo. Belluzzo ascended the dais shortly after Microsoft

announced his promotion from his former post as head of the company's consumer business, where he presided over the development of MSN and the Xbox video gaming console. And it was clear where he was coming from.

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Belluzzo spent most of his time talking about the "consumer experiences" that Microsoft was trying to foster: simplifying basic, daily activities; providing easy access to people and information; "extreme" and personalized entertainment. The key to all of this, Belluzzo said, would be online applications that run on PCs and a variety of other devices.

The highlight of the presentation: a demonstration of Windows XP, formerly known as "Whistler," the long overdue consumer upgrade of the Windows 98 operating system. XP features an overhauled user interface that extends the navigational ease for which Windows 98 had aimed. Perhaps more importantly, it's also vastly more stable than the two iterations of Windows.

Microsoft has high hopes for XP. It's been about five years since the last blockbuster consumer upgrade cycle, and the company's flagging sales could use another. Microsoft has said that the operating system is scheduled to be "generally available" in the second half of 2001. The new operating system will have to be ready by August if it the company is to be able to load it onto PCs to be sold for the holidays, Goldman software analyst Rick Sherlund told

. (Goldman hasn't done recent underwriting for the company.)

XP has important implications for the personal computer industry, which is in dire need of a catalyst to spur consumer demand. Bulls hope that the combination of a significantly improved operating system, combined with rock-bottom PC prices, could foster the return of the traditional holiday buying season, which vaporized in 2000. But the example of Windows 2000, the highly stable corporate operating system whose upgrade cycle has become much too diffused to constitute any dramatic increase in demand, begs caution. If corporations, in the midst of unprecedented prosperity and optimism, failed to upgrade to W2K en masse, why should consumers do so in a period in which sentiment is mixed, at best?

Belluzzo spoke a bit about the company's

.Net strategy, though not in great detail. On the question of when investors could expect Microsoft's new vision to begin to alter the company's revenue stream, which is overwhelmingly tied to the PC, whether via operating systems or applications, Belluzzo didn't betray much

visibility. "We're not going to wait 10 years," Belluzzo said. "But you can't expect much for the next couple years."