Microsoft aims for a seamless digital world

Microsoft Corp.'s "seamless computing" vision is about making software and devices work in sync with consumers' lives, John O'Rourke, consumer strategy director at Microsoft, said Friday.

Electronics stores have aisle after aisle of new technology gadgets coming to market every day. Think media players, PDAs (personal digital assistants), smart phones, smart watches, and Windows Media Center PCs. Microsoft's software is in a large number of those products, all of which are part of what O'Rourke calls the "digital lifestyle."

However, many of the products don't deliver what users want, according to O'Rourke. "There is room for improvement, a digital lifestyle wish list," O'Rourke said in a speech at Microsoft's Silicon Valley campus in Mountain View, California. His biggest wish: "I just wish this stuff worked the way my real world works."

Enter Microsoft's seamless computing vision, aired by the company's Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates at the Comdex trade show last month. Seamless computing is about fulfilling that wish and creating connected systems, O'Rourke said. In a world of seamless computing, a consumer's personal information -- such as e-mail and contacts -- would be available at all times and not spread across a plethora of different computing devices.

Although seamless computing is a buzz word everywhere at Microsoft, it applies mostly to consumers rather than enterprise users, said Aaron Woodman, also a director of consumer strategy at Microsoft, in an interview after O'Rourke's presentation.

"Seamless computing is important for the consumer because you have nobody to turn to; companies have whole departments to help you deal with this stuff," Woodman said. Seamless computing is about making products easier to use and making computing a key part of consumers' lives, he said.

Many of O'Rourke's seamless computing wishes have actually been fulfilled, or are about to be with products due out soon, he said.

Smart phones allow him to keep the same contacts and calendar on his phone as on his PC; media PCs let him record television shows and watch them when he wants to, and wireless LAN products distribute broadband around his home, he said.

On the horizon is MSN Premium, due to be launched at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas next month, which will offer better features for sharing digital photographs, he said. It will also include a tool called Outlook Connector, which will make an Outlook client work with MSN e-mail and corporate e-mail systems, allowing users to view their various in-boxes in a single client and combine and share their calendars.

Also due early next year are watches equipped with Microsoft's Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT). The watches are equipped with a radio frequency receiver and work with a subscription service that transmits information over an FM radio network. Users will be able to select from a menu of information, including news, stock quotes, weather, and traffic.

O'Rourke didn't divulge any details about unannounced products that may be unveiled at CES.

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Joris Evers

IDG News Service
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