RealTime IT News

Open House: Microsoft Home

Stepping through the foyer and into the Microsoft Home in New York, a visitor is confronted with the wide open spaces of an 8,000-square-foot loft.

Tastefully decorated in greens and browns with plenty of bright, airy white as well, the loft itself, situated in the posh Tribeca neighborhood, is probably out of the reach of most consumers. But the idea behind the luxurious apartment -- a home with a network that takes advantage of current Microsoft technology -- is not.

The home, utilizing hardware from companies like Compaq, Cisco and Rio, is networked with home networking features native to the recently released Microsoft Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me) operating system. Windows Me includes a Home Networking Wizard which helps users quickly and easily find shared resources and connect them, simply by plugging devices into a phone jack. With one computer, which acts as the residential gateway, hooked up to an ADSL line, computers in each room of the home have broadband access to the Internet -- and the network can also control lighting, security and heating in the home as well. Because it utilizes ADSL, users will only need a single phone line to get the network off the ground.

The network does not yet support Powerline technologies -- which would allow it to control network-enabled appliances through a home's electrical wiring -- but Microsoft indicated that was probably 18 months to two years away, depending on how long it takes the industry to agree on a standard.

However, the Microsoft home is equipped with an 80211B Wireless Network, attached to the phoneline network, allowing wireless devices like Pocket PCs to access the network and the Internet at broadband speeds.

After stepping inside the home, a visitor's eye is inevitably drawn to the living room, where "Uncle Dave" is watching a big screen television on the far wall. The television utilizes Microsoft Ultimate TV service -- in conjunction with DIRECTV satellite service -- making it the first direct broadcast satellite television platform to integrate DIRECTV programming, digital video recording, Interactive TV and Internet access in one package. Viewers can search for programs by title, subject or category; specify favorite channels for easy access; watch and/or record two shows at once; pause for up to 30 minutes; and record up to 35 hours of digital video. Unlike most of the technology in the home, the television is not part of the home network. It is built on the Microsoft WebTV platform and still uses a dial-up service.

The same is true of the MSN Companion in the kitchen, where "grandma" is looking up the recipe for "doodledongs." The MSN Companion is a small Internet appliance -- also utilizing dial-up service -- that takes up only a little more space than a toaster oven. Microsoft said the Companion is primarily targeted at households that don't have PCs, but many people are also interested in putting them in kitchens where they can be used to quickly look up recipes, search the Web or chat with friends.

In her bedroom, "Jen," the teenager, is downloading the latest U2 single and video to her Windows Media Player. After listening to music for a while she gets out the Microsoft SideWinder Game Voice, a gaming headset and control unit that enables her to use voice commands and chat with her friends while playing a computer game over the Internet. Tiring of the game, Jen pushes a button on her monitor and watches TV instead.

Next door, in the home office, "Mom" listens to a little music from her digital playlist while putting together a digital photo album using Microsoft PictureIt! Then, using Windows Me's digital media capabilities, she edits a home movie and e-mails it to her mother.

In the master bedroom, "Dad" is reading an e-book downloaded to his Pocket PC. Sliding a wireless card into the Pocket P