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Windows XP to get Bluetooth support

Microsoft releases to manufacturers an update that would allow PCs running Windows XP to connect to peripherals, handhelds and cell phones without wires.

Microsoft is giving computer manufacturers something extra to stuff into this holiday's PC stocking: Bluetooth.

The Redmond, Wash.-based company on Thursday released to manufacturers an update that would add Bluetooth support to Windows XP. Bluetooth allows peripherals, handhelds and cell phones to connect to PCs without wires. The technology is complimentary to 802.11b wireless, or Wi-Fi, which is used to network computers together or connect them to the Internet over the air.

Bluetooth support in Windows XP could be a big boost for the much-hyped technology that has yet to find much momentum in the consumer market. Early Bluetooth adopters have found few ways to use the fledging technology. Hewlett-Packard last year released a Bluetooth-enabled printer, but pulled back on plans to add the technology to more peripherals. For a long time, IBM sold one notebook with Bluetooth, the ThinkPad.

But increasing interest in the handheld and handset markets could mean Bluetooth is finally ready to move into the mainstream.

IBM has expanded the number of Bluetooth-enabled notebooks, including the ThinkPad X30, which the company announced in August. HP on Monday revealed that it would ship an updated printer with Bluetooth, the DeskJet 450, next month. Motorola sells Bluetooth cell phones as does Sony Ericsson with the stylish T68i. HP sells a Bluetooth version of its Pocket PC handheld, the iPaq 3870 and 3970 handhelds, and Palm offers a Bluetooth card for its PDAs and plans to start selling a new Bluetooth model in October.

"Microsoft believes this milestone will be a catalyst to increasing the development and use of wireless technologies--one of the fastest-growing segments of the industry," said Jim Cullinan, Windows XP lead product manager. "Mainstream availability of Bluetooth-enabled products is expected to be a boom for wireless market opportunities, and users will start to see an increasing number of Bluetooth devices available."

Microsoft expects PC makers to start offering the update on new PCs within three to six months, so in some cases in time for the holidays. The company also plans to make a Bluetooth update available via Windows XP's Automatic Update feature. XP users would have to install Service Pack 1, which Microsoft released earlier this month, before applying the Bluetooth update.

Microsoft did not say when consumers would be able to download Bluetooth support, but last year's USB 2 update could be a guide. Microsoft released USB 2 support to manufacturers in December and made the update available to consumers about two months later.

HP is in the best position to quickly begin offering Bluetooth, particularly on Evo business and Presario consumer portables. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based computing giant already offers a Bluetooth "MultiPort" adapter that clips onto a portable's lid. One such model is the Presario 2800. But the company wouldn't decide on when to make the XP update available until a period of testing.

Typically, manufacturers need four weeks to six weeks of testing before they start shipping major updates to Windows XP.

Still, some manufacturers said they would take a wait-and-see approach. Gateway has no plans to add Bluetooth to its computers at this time, a representative said Thursday. The technology would most likely appear first in portables, the representative said, emphasizing Bluetooth hardware is fairly easy to add. "We're just not seeing customer demand for it yet," the representative said.

Microsoft's adding Bluetooth to Windows XP follows the path trodden by Apple Computer, which added the technology to Mac OS X last month. Apple is also expected to release by the end of the month a test version of iSync, software for synchronizing the company's iPod music player, Palm handhelds and some cell phones with Macs. In the case of cell phones, such as the T68i, iSync uses Bluetooth to connect to the device. Apple currently does not ship Bluetooth hardware on Macs; D-Link offers the DWB-120M adapter for this purpose.

Apple and Microsoft's decision to ramp up OS support for Bluetooth is an important first step for a technology poised to take off, analysts say.

Market researcher IDC predicted that the Bluetooth semiconductor market would grow to $2.6 billion in 2006 from $76.6 million last year. IDC expects widespread Bluetooth adoption to begin next year.

Still, incompatibilities, security and other problems are expected to cost consumers and businesses $5.6 billion a year, according to Gartner. The market researcher expects consumers and businesses to purchase 560 million Bluetooth-enabled devices by 2005.