Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said this week that the company will launch Windows XP in New York next month as planned, even as PC makers across America shipped the first PCs preloaded with the new OS. The comments came during a luncheon with the Chicago Software Association.

"If New York wants us, I'm sure we'll want to be there," Ballmer said yesterday. "We had been planning on a big launch for Windows XP in New York City, and I know we'll have discussions with the mayor and his staff before we proceed." But even if the gala launch event is somehow curtailed because of the devastation in New York, Ballmer says that Microsoft's fall product rollouts--including Xbox and XP--will happen on schedule. "There is no reason why those products can't ship on their existing schedules, and I don't anticipate any change to the schedules," he said. "The products themselves will be available. We're not going to hold them back from the marketplace."

Meanwhile, top PC makers such as Dell, Compaq, Gateway, and Hewlett-Packard (HP) are already selling XP-based PCs from their Web sites. Dell said this week that some XP-based systems are already for sale and that Microsoft has cleared PC makers to ship systems beginning September 24, a month before XP's retail release. This release is much faster than previous Windows versions, which generally saw a 6- to 8-week pause between release to manufacturing (RTM) and general availability. PC makers had been working with prerelease versions of XP before they got the final code because they had hoped to see the product rejuvenate sales.