Microsoft seeks compelling PCs

Looking to inspire PC buyers to upgrade, Microsoft is hailing "life immersion" technology, featuring multimedia and other improvements that the company hopes will compel users to buy new boxes.

Microsoft seeks to enable development of PCs with advanced graphics and sleeker, smaller designs that will entice users, said Will Poole, senior vice president of the Windows Client Division at Microsoft. Poole discussed the company’s goals during a keynote presentation at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) on Wednesday morning.

"Why do consumers and business users believe what they have is good enough? This is the problem we face in the industry," Poole said. He called users' satisfaction with systems the biggest problem facing the PC industry.

"We are responsible for giving business users really compelling and engaging reasons to make that investment in time and money to buy new products," Poole said.

Microsoft's vision of "life immersion" is intended to reach consumers on an emotional level so they will want the new products, he said.

Key to Microsoft's advancements for PCs is the Longhorn version of Windows, due in 2005. "The breakthrough work that we're going to do in Longhorn is really going to change the landscape of what consumers and business people see" in a PC, said Poole.

Noting that the reduction in PC prices has meant margin compression, in which 76 percent now sell for less than US$1,000, Poole said higher priced systems need to offer tangible benefits for users to make the investment.

PCs must be built to connect users to their networks whether they are on airplanes, trains, the home, or office, becoming indispensable, he said.

Software needs to move from "usually works" to "always works," Poole said. Hardware, meanwhile, must be able to withstand bruises and bumps, he said. Additionally, Microsoft is working with Intel to boost audio capabilities, he said. Robust power management also is required, he said.

Systems need the "wow" factor, with industrial designs, aesthetics, 32-bit graphics, surround sound, and wide displays, said Poole. Other improvements needed include integrated biometrics for security.

Additionally, Windows will need to fix its own problems without user intervention, Poole stressed.

To show what users can expect in the PC market, Microsoft Product Manager Cory Linton displayed a set of small systems including a cell phone-sized Spot device that provides information such as news, instant messages, and the weather.

He also showed ultra-mobile PCs, including a prototype from Vulcan that fits inside a pocket.

Linton cited Microsoft's planned Xeel technology, pronounced "zeal," for providing a common user experience across different devices. The software features a set of common navigation controls combining hardware and software.

Poole stressed that current deficiencies in PC design need to be overcome, such as noise, heat, and human interface designs. "We've got to perform the way that people really expect," said Poole.

Poole pointed to Microsoft gains with its Pocket PC technology, with the company gaining 45 percent market share within seven months of its release. The company's Media Center PC technology has placed systems bearing it among the top 10 retail revenue generators, said Poole.

Microsoft's Tablet PC production also has increased, according to Poole.

In the area of gaming, the company anticipates new games featuring a 1.6 million-polygon model in 18 to 24 months, according to Microsoft's Steve Willet, group manger for Windows Gaming and Graphics Technology at Microsoft. He cited Epic Games as one such games maker for Windows.

On the consumer side, technology called Highmat will enable users to record rich media on a CD and play it on compliant DVD players, according to Microsoft.

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