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Microsoft Goes From Home to Work to Home Again

Microsoft  wants to be everywhere we are, all the time -- from when we make our morning coffee to when we get in our cars and drive to the office.

No one would be surprised to see a wireless device embedded in our travel mugs, just to make sure we're even connected between the kitchen and the driveway.

Blurring all distinctions between home and office, Microsoft has trotted out a slew of products at the 2007 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas over the past few days that seek to introduce more Microsoft software -- and even hardware -- in every location imaginable.

Microsoft CEO Bill Gates noted in his keynote address that the result of the new introductions will be a "set of new connected experiences that link our interests... in ways that extend across home, work and play."

To name just a few, the Redmond, Wash.-based company unveiled the Windows Home Server this week, which allows consumers to store and back-up all matter of digital content in a secure location. The server can also be accessed remotely via a personalized Windows Live Internet address.

It also introduced a fingerprint reader with software from DigitalPersona, based in Redwood City, Calif., allowing customers to manage user accounts without having to remember passwords.

The company's Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT) group also demonstrated new products with embedded screens where customers can receive real-time weather and traffic updates, gas prices and even local movie listings. The products ranged from wrist watches to coffee makers.

Microsoft has also partnered with Ford to introduce a new in-car mobile application, Sync, a hands-free application which will allow customers to use mobile handsets, PDAs and other devices to listen to music, hear text messages through the car audio system and execute voice commands to call contacts.

It's no stretch to see most of these applications being relevant in the workplace as well. By launching applications with a consumer spin, Microsoft is taking a page out of rival Google's playbook.

Dave Girouard, enterprise division vice president at Google , recently explained that Google uses its experiences and name recognition in the consumer space to create offerings for businesses.

Tier1 Research analyst Andrew Schroepfer said that if Microsoft has learned anything from Google, it's that consumers enjoy using Google.

And they had better take that lesson to heart, he noted.

"If they don't try to be Google they're never going to be Microsoft again," he told internetnews.com.

Microsoft is also introducing many products in advance of the availability of Vista to consumers as a way of whetting their appetites for the new operating system.

"Vista is the catalyst for a variety of new hardware devices being made available to consumers," noted Gates.

Gates also said that "for consumers, we believe gaming is one of the top reasons to upgrade to Windows Vista."

Indeed, Microsoft made repeated references to Vista in almost all of its product announcements, extolling the virtues of the new operating system's graphic capabilities in conjunction with the Home Server, and highlighting new feature sets such as Parental Controls available in Windows Vista used in tandem with its new fingerprint reader.

Ovum Summit analyst Dwight Davis noted that most computing applications in the home had their start in the office.

"The majority of such things tend to be business adopted first and then filtered down," he told internetnews.com.