CAN Microsoft, the Mercedes of personal computer software, put a little MG into its image? The software-maker is happy that its name often conjures up images of technical quality and desktop productivity, as it did in scores of focus groups Microsoft conducted. It just wants to add a little fun and sparkle to the mix. This is where Microsoft Home comes in, with its new, sporty packaging, arty blue logo, more zoomy film, encyclopedia, educational, video game and personal creativity software programs. Microsoft's release is just in time for an explosion in home computer use. An estimated five million units have been shipped this year, up 1.2 million from 1991, which represents a market of nearly US$6 billion. Home education software was the industry's fastest growing category, the Software Publishers' Association said. The sector gained 55 per cent in the second quarter of 1993 over the same period the year before. However, Microsoft will find stiff competition. Leading consumer software companies, including Broderbund, Intuit, Sierra, Electronic Arts and Knowledgeware, have been anticipating its assault and are expected to unleash their own promotions. Several years ago, people who used home computers did so to catch up on office work, and perhaps do their taxes or keep their books. Now, they use them to educate their children and themselves, to play games and for personal uses, such as a list of their compact discs or newsletters for their children's soccer team. Statistically, more than half of home computers are used for schooling, almost 70 per cent for games and three-quarters for personal or household use. ''Everyone in the home is using the computer, and doing lots more with it,'' said Patty Stonesifer, vice-president of Microsoft's consumer division. But they tended to think of Microsoft as the spreadsheet people, or the word-processor people; big, serious, important. ''We want them to think fun, enjoyment, surprise,'' she said. To do so ''required a sub-brand we could begin to build equity with around enjoyment of software in the home''. At first, much of Microsoft Home would involve re-packaging familiar titles, including the workhorse Works, Flight Simulator game, the encyclopedia Encarta and Cinemania, a video-catalogue program now with digitised clips from 60 famous films. Microsoft also had new titles: Art Gallery, a computerised tour of the London National Gallery; Special Occasions Desktop Publishing, for weddings, birthdays and anniversaries; and Paris Scenery and New York Scenery, which are additions to Flight Simulator. Over the next 18 months, Microsoft Home would grow from 29 to more than 100 titles, Ms Stonesifer said. She expected the typical future home PC user to have two to three dozen packages in the $30 to $80 range, compared with about six right now, as consumers shopped for software ''the way you shop for books and music CDs today''. Microsoft would pour millions of advertising dollars into marketing through a direct-response cable TV campaign, demonstration units in stores, kiosks in shopping malls and other public places and promotional videos. Ms Stonesifer would not disclose how much the publicity would cost, but said it was partly trying to find out how to target home software users. ''There has been no Harvard Business School case study on how you sell consumer software,'' she said. The campaign was another step in Bill Gates' long-time vision to put a computer on every desk and in every home. Microsoft Office, its suite of productivity programs, and Microsoft At Work, its new effort to link fax machines, photocopiers, telephone networks and other office functions to PCs, meant the company dominated the desktop, she said. ''This is going to do the same thing for the home,'' Ms Stonesifer said.