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TORONTO — Microsoft is readying a new Web site it’s calling “Windows Marketplace” via which it plans to provide customers with drivers, applications and services from both Microsoft and its partners.

Company officials offered a bit of information on the forthcoming service during the Sunday morning keynote at Microsoft’s annual worldwide partner conference here.

Kevin Johnson, group vice president in charge of Microsoft’s worldwide sales, marketing and services, told show attendees that Microsoft will show preview the Windows Marketplace for show attendees. When Microsoft eventually deploys the Marketplace, to allow customers to access it directly from the Windows Start button, Johnson said.

Windows Marketplace is akin to Office Online, Microsoft’s Office Web site, via which Microsoft offers Office users code samples, downloads, training and product information from both Microsoft and third-party partners, said Microsoft officials.

The Marketplace also will bear a resemblance to the Windows Catalog capability that Microsoft already offers on the Web. The Windows Catalog allows users to search for hardware and software that is compatible with Windows XP.

In an interview with Microsoft Watch after the morning keynotes, Johnson said the primary goal the Windows Marketplace will be to “connect customer to partners.” He declined to provide additional details on availability or specific functionality.

But the Windows Marketplace also is expected to provide Microsoft with a way to more easily provide its users with access to third-party device drivers via a single site.

Joe Wilcox, an analyst with Jupiter Research, said that Microsoft actually began testing the marketplace functionality in conjunction with Windows XP Service Pack 2 release candidate 2. He said RC2 installed a Windows Marketplace icon on testers’ Windows toolbars.

Wilcox said the Marketplace is expected to be aligned with Microsoft’s Windows Update site, helping to streamline the way that users obtain their product updates and drivers from both Microsoft and third party software vendors.

The Marketplace is part of Microsoft’s XP Reloaded Go-to-Market (GTM) program. XP Reloaded is all about showing XP users how to get more value out of their Windows XP software.

XP Reloaded is one of five new GTMs that Microsoft announced here at the partner conference. Microsoft and its partners will build marketing campaigns during Microsoft’s fiscal 2005 (which commenced on July 1) around these GTMs. The other four are Business Applications, focused on business decision makers; Connected Productivity, which is about empowering information workers; Operational Efficiency, which is targeted at IT professionals; and Connected Systems, which is focused on developers.

An estimated 5,500 partners and 2,500 Microsoft employees are attending the worldwide partner conference, which runs through Tuesday.