Microsoft testing home entertainment PC

The early version of "Freestyle" will have a remote control and a user interface designed to make it easier to access certain functions from a couch.

Microsoft has shipped an early trial version of "Freestyle"--its new entertainment-centric PC design--to some beta testers, a company representative confirmed Thursday.

PCs equipped with a remote control and an early, pre-beta release of the Freestyle software were sent to a small group of testers that have been accepted into the Freestyle beta program, said Jodie Cadieux, marketing manager for Microsoft's eHome division. She said comments from the advance test will help decide the nature and release date of a full beta version of Freestyle.

Announced early this year at the Consumer Electronics Show, Freestyle is a part of Microsoft's eHome strategy to shift personal computing to the living room. PCs equipped with Freestyle software and hardware add-ons would act as a digital entertainment jukebox, distributing music, video and photos throughout a networked home.

Initial incarnations of Freestyle--expected to go on sale by the end of this year--will be much more modest, however. The early version will be similar to current PCs, but with a remote control and a somewhat redesigned user interface to make it easier to access certain functions from a couch.

Some analysts have said that for Freestyle to catch on with consumers, it will need to be combined with Mira, Microsoft's design for touch-screen wireless monitors that can access PC functions from anywhere in the home.

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