Microsoft touts PCs, Longhorn, CE

Microsoft has outlined a future model for PCs, the successor to Windows XP, and an upcoming iteration of Windows CE, all of which the company hopes will improve how users interact with computers.

One analyst sees the move as a way to boost sales.

Microsoft is "trying to spur the hardware vendors (who) will create innovations and, in turn, spur PC sales," said Matt Rosoff, analyst at Directions on Microsoft Inc., an independent analyst firm in Kirkland, Wash. "They realize IT spending is in a slump and it's unlikely to pick up any time soon."

At the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) last week in New Orleans , Microsoft officials, including chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates, showed an early version multimedia PC the company is developing with Hewlett-Packard Co., dubbed Athens .

"The goal here is to have a consistent user experience," said Chad Magendanz, lead program manager for Microsoft's hardware innovation group in Redmond, Wash.

Officials stressed the business uses of Athens , which runs Windows XP and features a high-DPI, flat-panel screen. For example, the PC attempts to merge voice, video and text messaging.

"The scenario is really focused on business users and specifically on communications needs," said Greg Sullivan, lead product manager for the Windows client division.

"So this is a prototype that shows what the business PC or information worker PC might look like in a couple years."

Also at the show, Microsoft stamped a 2005 shipping date on Longhorn, and foreshadowed some of the improvements, including the new WinFS (Windows Future Storage) file system, and a planned device driver program.

"Our goal for the Windows end-user is to be better able to identify problems before they see them," with Longhorn device drivers, said Jean Valentine, lead program manager for Windows hardware and driver quality at Microsoft. "The vision of the (driver development) product is to make hardware development as approachable as Windows application development."

Microsoft is looking ahead to improvements in its Windows CE .Net operating system. Version 4.2 of the product, featuring voice over IP functionality, is due to ship on June 1, said Keith White, senior director of the embedded and appliance platforms group at Microsoft.

Beyond that, version 5.0 of Windows CE .Net, code-named Macallan, is in the planning stages, White said. He would not reveal details of the release, but did say that version 5.0, like its predecessors, would operate in devices ranging from telematics systems in automobiles to smart phones and portable media players.

Improving Web services capabilities in Windows CE is also a key investment area, White said.

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