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Microsoft Co-Founder To Ship Handheld PC

UPDATED: Attention Blackberry addicts, your mastery of typing with both thumbs now has an application outside of just answering e-mails. FlipStart Labs, which was founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, announced its plans to ship a super compact PC, almost as small as a Blackberry or other smartphone, with full Windows support. The first units for sale are slated to begin shipping March 27.

FlipStart weighs less than two pounds but has a basic PC inside. The 5.6-inch screen provides 1024x700 pixel resolution. Under the hood is a 1.1GHz Pentium M low-power processor, 512MB of memory, a 30GB hard drive and integrated graphics. These specs are at the very minimum required to run Vista.

FlipStart
FlipStart full of Windows support.
Source: FlipStart

FlipStart comes with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. It has a backlit QWERTY keypad, mouse buttons and a touchpad for input, and in a stroke of genius, a single button for ctrl-alt-del. There are also buttons that allow for zooming in on a specific section of the screen.

The unit also sports built-in speakers and a microphone, a built-in camera and USB ports. A full-featured port replicator will allow for plugging in the unit so it can be used in a desktop environment with a full-size keyboard and monitor and a wired Ethernet connection.

The FlipStart InfoPane allows for quick access to information in the user's Outlook store, such as e-mail addresses, contacts and calendar without having to fully boot the unit or even open it.

But Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies, thinks the FlipStart will be a hard sell.

"The only people who will want that is someone with a tremendous demand for mobility and isn't compromised by a lack of a fully functional set," he told internetnews.com. "They might sell a few as executive jewelry, but they won't sell any more."

Kay compared the FlipStart to the OQO computer, which is nearly identical in features and size, but hasn't sold in great numbers.

"If they brought the price down to $500, that might help, but there's still compromises on usability. The problem there is the lack of screen real estate is a detriment for that category, and there's a lot of compromise on the input level, even though it's got a lot of keyboard," he said.

Allen, a multi-billionaire from his Microsoft stock and numerous investments, said the FlipStart addresses a problem that needs solving. "Years ago, I began to imagine a super compact computer that would allow us to connect, communicate, work and relax, no matter where we are -- one that is intrinsically intuitive to use," Allen said in a statement. "FlipStart is the first commercial product to meet that vision; it simply works as expected."

A prototype unit Flipstart showed in 2004 used the low-power Transmeta Crusoe processor, but the company has since switched to Intel.

"FlipStart is instantly appealing because of its familiar, intuitive form factor," said David Daoud, research manager at IDC, in a statement." FlipStart's power stems from the combination of its accessible design and constant connectivity, allowing people to get work done and be entertained wherever they go."

David Needle contributed to this report.