Microsoft will finally begin distributing a modified version of Windows XP without its Media Player next week, more than a year after it was ordered to do so by the European Commission.

Last March, the software giant was told to produce a version of XP without the software tied into the operating system due to its monopolistic abuse of the market. By effectively forcing PC makers to include Media Player with every computer they sold, Microsoft had gained an unfair advantage over rivals such as RealNetworks and Apple, the Commission decided.

The new software, called Windows XP Home Edition N and Windows XP Professional Edition N, is Microsoft's second attempt to meet the Commission's requirement. It distributed a version of XP to channel partners in January, but the Commission rejected it as unsatisfactory.

In particular, Microsoft altered registry files in a way that made the operating system work less well with rival media players, the Commission said. It also rejected Microsoft's proposed name for the product, Windows XP Reduced Media Edition. The Commission also told Microsoft to remove warnings that the new software would not work with some programs.

The latest versions fix those problems, Microsoft claims. They will be available to PC makers on 15 June in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish, and to other distribution channels, including retail stores, on 1 July. Versions in 10 other European languages will be available by 15 July.

The software will cost the same as the "standard" version of Windows XP, which Microsoft will continue to sell. Critics have argued that it should charge less for the versions without Windows Media Player, on the grounds that consumers will not pay the same price for less software, undermining the ruling.

As with existing versions of Windows, PC makers and end users can install other media players with the new editions, Microsoft said. It provided CDs of the software to the European Commission early last week.

How much impact the new software will have remains unclear. Most big PC makers in Europe said in January that they did not plan to offer the version of Windows without media player, citing the cost of supporting additional products and the weak demand they anticipated from consumers.