Beginning with the release of Windows 95, Microsoft has made a habit of augmenting each new operating system with an add-on package of assorted enhancements and goodies. The latest such supplement to come to market is Microsoft Plus for Windows XP, a collection of graphic and audio utilities, rudimentary games, screen savers, and desktop themes specifically designed for users of Microsoft's latest and most robust OS. But whereas the Windows 95 and Windows 98 Plus! editions blended several genuinely useful applications such as disk management tools and virus checkers with the usual stable of multimedia tweaks, Plus! for Windows XP offers more fluff than substance. Although newbies will undoubtedly find much of the collection quite compelling, veteran users may not be so impressed.
The program is divided into four distinct categories--Digital Media, Games, Screen Savers, and Themes--each of which may be accessed through a single, convenient graphical interface. Of these, the Digital Media component is clearly the deepest and most interesting. Its handy utilities include an MP3 audio converter for transforming disk-hogging WAV and MP3 files into space-efficient WMA format, a music playlist organizer known simply as Personal DJ, an exceedingly capable CD label maker, 20-plus Media Player skins, and three animated Media Player visualizations (including one culled from the Xbox game Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee).
Music and video fans in particular will immediately gravitate to the Voice Command for Windows Media Player module, which allows users to operate most Media Player functions by issuing verbal commands into their computer microphone. Even when faced with garbled enunciation and loud background music, Voice Command faithfully recognizes commands such as "Volume Up" and "Pause." Sadly, Microsoft's seemingly innovative Speaker Enhancement tool is ultimately little more than a glorified tone control that often hinders rather than improves the sound of your speakers.
Of the three games included in the package, the most intriguing is Russian Square, a deceptively addictive puzzle affair that plays like a one-dimensional offspring of Tetris and Rubik's Cube. Far less involving are the arcade bowling knock-off HyperBowl and the three-dimensional Labyrinth, a virtual take on the real-life game that involves a tilting table, metal ball, and lots of ball-gobbling holes. Eight animated screen savers and four desktop themes complete the package, the most notable of which is the stunningly lifelike and absolutely gorgeous underwater screen saver called "Aquarium." Otherwise, the program's themes and screen savers are no better than those that can be downloaded free of charge from various Web sites.
With Plus! for Windows XP, Microsoft has assembled a multipronged mixture of useful and not-so-useful multimedia tools and lighthearted amenities into one easily accessible compilation. If you aren't the type to scout around the Internet for individual components and feel the need to spruce up your XP audio-video environment, it may be for you.
With Microsoft Plus! for Windows XP, you can personalize your computer experience like never before. Built exclusively to take advantage of the power of Windows XP, Microsoft Plus! delivers exciting new features for digital music, gaming, photos, and more. Tailor your digital audio and video to your own tastes, challenge yourself with a variety of fun and exciting games, and customize the look and feel of your desktop with amazingly lifelike screen savers and images.
Enjoy digital audio and video like never before
New arcade-style games featuring stunning 3-D graphics
Use your voice to control Windows Media Player
Create and print custom CD covers, labels, and inserts