Microsoft officials confirmed on Tuesday that Gates would display and talk about the work being done to create a tablet PC that would incorporate pen-based and voice-based computing with handwriting recognition as well.
The prototype was first discussed by Microsoft at its Forum 2000 event last June and at succeeding Microsoft sponsored events thereafter.
Microsoft officials at that time stated that the unit was at least two years away. The unit will integrate wireless capability and incorporate instant messaging, paging functionality, and Web browsing and is meant to be used as a fully functioning PC.
"We don't believe users want another companion device. They want the same functionality as they get from a notebook computer," said a source at Microsoft who asked not to be identified.
Last June, a developer working with Microsoft on the project said the device will offer data, video, and voice conferencing. If this is the case, it may explain why the product, according to a Microsoft representative, is at least a year or more away. In order to accommodate video and voice conferencing with wireless coverage, the system will need to wait on the next generation of cellular service.
There has been speculation that Microsoft's tablet device may use Transmeta's low-powered Crusoe processor. Transmeta officials recently whispered that such a deal was in the works. But Microsoft has not appeared committed to the processor.
"Microsoft has not selected a processor. We are still in the early, early early stages of development and I emphasise that what will be shown at Comdex is a prototype," said the Microsoft source.
The Crusoe is a hybrid processor that uses both silicon and software to execute applications.
Tablet computers are not new, and companies like Fujitsu PC have been marketing them as niche solutions for years.
Fujitsu's Stylistic 3400 pen-based system uses a full implementation of the Windows operating system and runs various Intel Pentium processors. The units typically come with a built-in modem and, according to a Fujitsu representative, will also soon include wireless connectivity.