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Microsoft, HP Update the Future of PCs

Microsoft is revising last year's vision for the PC of the future with the help of HP .

The two tech companies are again presenting their Windows Home Concept PC at Microsoft's annual Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) this week in Washington. As previously reported, their goal is to show how emerging technologies can shorten the feedback loop between software and hardware.

Building on last year's Athens concept PC, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates is scheduled to highlight the latest prototype -- code-named Troy -- and how it fits into his vision of a "seamless computing experience." The company is also planning on distributing its Windows Longhorn developer preview code for device manufacturers to begin development of native Windows Longhorn device drivers.

The prototype is pretty forward looking considering some of the interconnect technology is still in the development stage. Also, it runs on Microsoft Windows Longhorn, which is not due out until 2006.

But according to HP's development group, the desktop model of the future could already benefit from current technologies, including Voice over Internet Protocols (VoIP) ; multi-band wireless such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi ; and simple interfaces and interactions with various consumer devices like stereos, televisions and DVD players.

Similar to the Athens, Troy features a 23-inch, high-density LCD display, a console with a handset cradle and Bluetooth transceiver that allows for connections between drives, as well as a rechargeable wireless keyboard (it recharges on the base), wireless mouse, and a cordless phone directly integrated with the machine.

The console includes sensory technology that knows when you are sitting in front of it and takes advantage of low-power technology in both the chip and systems levels. The demonstration of the prototype is expected to show how VoIP software in Troy can identify callers with Caller ID, while simultaneously pulling up any background information on the caller stored on the machine or online, and all e-mails in the user's inbox from the caller.

The user can also take notes, which are stored on the computer's schedule, and the machine will mark the call on the calendar. The computer can also be set to mute music when a call comes in, and set an instant messaging client status to "On the Phone," or automatically forward a call to another phone.

The updated version will include end-user features, such as the latest DirectX application programming interface , System Restore, Windows Movie Maker 2, Windows Messenger and Windows Media Player.

Microsoft is also throwing in its latest release of Visual Studio .NET 2003 and the .NET Framework, which it said helps developers use their existing tools.

An HP spokesperson told internetnews.com that a version of the prototype, code-named Sparta, is currently being tested as an enterprise version of the home set and should come to market before Troy.

"What we are looking at first are medium and large companies and perhaps down the line this will also be attractive to smaller businesses as well," HP Product Engineering Manager for PCs Kent Biggs told internetnews.com. "It's really for those looking to improve their network experience, such as a call center or companies that have a geographically challenged workforce with employees that are moving to telecommuting."

As part of the concept PC showcase, Microsoft is expected to demonstrate an HP printer connecting to a Windows-based PC using the new Web services discovery protocol (MSDWSP). Co-authored by Intel, Microsoft and printer companies Lexmark and Ricoh, the spec helps various devices support Web services. Microsoft said the next step for the Devices Profile is to propose it to the Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) Forum for consideration as the basis for the UPnP 2.0 Device Architecture.

Gates is also expected to highlight Microsoft's Windows XP 64-Bit Edition for 64-Bit Extended Systems such as AMD's Athlon and Opteron, as well as Intel Extended Memory 64 technology.

In a prepared statement, the company said it would not be releasing those drivers until the fourth quarter of 2004. But the software vendor said its Driver Development Kit and enhancements, including support for Visual Studio .NET 2003 and the Microsoft .NET Framework 1.1, are all being distributed starting this week.