In XP effort, Microsoft avoids allusions to itself

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Affirmation meets digital imaging meets Peter Pan.

The advertising launch of Windows XP (extra pricey) depicts a universal fantasy: ordinary folks soaring effortlessly through the treetops, liberated by 21st-century technology to perform miracles unimaginable to previous generations.

Unless they had a Super 8 camera.

You Can

You Talk

You Mix

You Edit

You Share

You Connect

You Soar

Those are the photography-intensive limitless possibilities, as abbreviated in onscreen type by McCann-Erickson Worldwide, San Francisco, to the musical background of the artist still known as Madonna.

Faster than the speed of light, she's flying... trying to re-me-mber, where it all began.

And I fe-el like I just got home. And I fe-el... quicker than a ray of light.

Quicker than a ray of light I'm flying...and I fe-el....

The number is titled "Ray of Light," and here it is supposed to evoke a sense of unprecedented empowerment, although in its entirety the song certainly seems intended to describe the moment of death. Microsoft chose not to include all the lyrics, among them: She's got herself a universe gone quickly/For the call of thunder threatens everyone. Wise decision.

That's one of two prudent edits made by Microsoft and McCann. As of Sept. 10, the launch theme was "Prepare to fly," which tracked better with the soaring imagery of the advertising, but was rendered unusable by terrorism hell. The replacement, "Yes, you can" is intended to be similarly inspiring, although it presumes that PC owners are currently telling themselves "No, I can't."

Even before anthrax phobia, was Personal-Computing Self-Doubt much of a crippling national preoccupation?

Particularly in the area of video editing, which is the killer app this ad most trumpets, how many people are really feeling impotent and worthless about their inability to accomplish a smooth dissolve?

Maybe the key here is the subtext. Ostensibly "Yes, you can" is about empowering users to exploit the video applications they hitherto could only a) lay awake dreaming about, or b) perform on a Mac. But there is also a crucial underlying message: Fly without fear of crashing.

Windows XP is the first consumer offering from Microsoft entirely independent of the creaky DOS infrastructure. XP is, in other words, an operating system unto itself, and therefore far more stable than the fatal-fault-prone Windows of yore.

Microsoft could hardly pitch XP explicitly on stability grounds, of course, lest it be seen conceding the maddening deficiencies of the biggest cash cow in the history of commerce. And it certainly couldn't focus too much on such XP-integrated features as Messenger and Passport, because that only invites scrutiny of the company's predatory marketplace behavior. When cash cows are owned by 900-pound gorillas, competitors and customers-and, eventually, therefore, consumers-are squashed like little bugs.

Those circumstances require a certain circumspection, and circumlocution, in which "You Mix" and "You Edit" suddenly are elevated to liberating the human spirit. Probably it sounds better than "You Buy. Or Else." But organizing your snapshots seems a little mundane for the imagery invoked.

Anyway, just by the by, this soaring stuff can be overrated.

The AdReview staff once-under the influence of cheap Mexican hooch-decided to go parasailing along a Puerto Vallarta beach in an attempt to seize the exquisite sensation of flying we'd so often experienced in dreamland, usually just before scenes of the erotically unlikely. Alas, once rigged to the harness and dragged by motorboat aloft, what we felt was less the surrealistic serenity of gliding than an uncomfortable concentration of G-forces to the groin area. Dolor de los testiculos, as they say South of the Border. There's nothing particularly empowering about the world's highest-altitude wedgie.

Especially when, in your heart of hearts and with all respect to the technology involved, you harbor a deathly fear of crashing. For the call of thunder threatens everyone.

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