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Microsoft Unveils Home Device Technology

Microsoft Monday showed off its new Net device technology for the home, including display technology that is aimed at providing access to data throughout the house and tools to tie together TVs and PCs.

Specifically, Microsoft founder Bill Gates used his keynote address at the Consumer Electronics 2002 show to show a new set of Windows-based technologies, code-named "Mira" and "Freestyle," which that he said simplify access to information from a variety of places throughout the home. The technology is based on Windows CE .NET, the newest version of the Windows CE kernel, that was officially launched at the show.

"Mira-enabled devices utilize Windows CE .NET and provide an easy-to-use, low-maintenance smart display that allows users to gain access to their information with new form factors such as detachable, wireless, LCD monitors and digital televisions," Gates explained in his CES keynote address. "Users will be able to undock their Mira-enabled monitors and carry them anywhere in the house to browse the Web, read e-mail messages, run applications and access information that resides on their PC."

Gates said that Mira-based products are expected from, among other companies, Intel, National Semiconductor and display vendors ViewSonic and Wyse Technology. He provided no timetable or specific details about the release of the products, however.

Separately, though, ViewSonic showed its Mira-enabled airpanel 150, a 15-inch LCD display that, using Mira technology, can connect wirelessly to PCs and other devices and can be placed anywhere in the home. The company said it expected to release the product by mid-year and said that pricing had not yet been set.

In addition, National Semiconductor and ViewSonic both have previously developed carryable tablet-sized pad-like devices with relatively large VGA displays. The few Web pad devices that were released, however, did poorly in the marketplace because, among other reasons, they were high-priced -- as high as $1,000 in some cases.

Freestyle is a set of technologies developed by Microsoft's recently-developed eHome Division. It can be developed to serve as a PC-based remote control that enables users to, for instance, view PC-based photos on their televisions. The technology is aimed at being integrated into a TV tuner card and can enable control of the television for tasks like video recording, from a Windows XP-equipped PC, Gates said.

Gates also demonstrated a device based on the company's Smartphone 2002 platform. To date, Microsoft has had limited success with its Net-ready phone platform, failing so far to catch up to adoption of Symbian's platform. Symbian is co-owned by some of the leading phone manufacturers including Nokia, Ericsson and Motorola.

Gates also said that Windows CE .NET will be used as the basis for a new generation of set-tops, handheld devices and wireless phones that will be released this year. He specifically mentioned that devices based on the new kernel were expected from a wide variety of vendors.

In particular, the company said that Casio has committed to a new release of its Cassiopeia Pocket Manager BE-300 based on the platform and Hitachi and Samsung also was committed to developing a new handhelds. In addition, ViewSonic, Wyse Technology and Fujitsu were developing tablet-sized devices based on Windows CE .NET and Motorola was developing a set-top box based on the kernel.

David Haskin is managing editor of sister site, allNetDevices.