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Gates pushes TV computers in China

Eight computer companies in China are backing Microsoft?s push for new consumer computer devices based on its Windows CE software.

Eight computer companies in China, including the country?s leading PC maker, are backing Microsoft?s push for new consumer computer devices based on its Windows CE software.

Microsoft Chairman and CEO Bill Gates today previewed its "Venus" TV set-top box technology for the Chinese marketplace by announcing that eight companies including heavyweights such as China?s Legend Group and Taiwan-based Acer will build devices centered on this software standard.

Venus devices use a Chinese version of the Windows CE operating system, which is software similar in some respects to the Windows found on PCs but in others it differs since it offers TV-centric features also. Computer "boxes" attach to a TV screen for Internet browsing, e-mail, word processing, games, multimedia, television and video CD (VCD), according to Microsoft.

Venus products will use a keyboard, joystick, or mouse for input. "Manufacturers will select from a range of hardware and software technologies to build devices unique to their target markets," Microsoft said in a statement.

Gates said that the low cost of the devices and a consumer design which stresses products that are easy to use should allow the company to "increase access to educational software and, ultimately, the Internet for China's consumers."

Manufacturers, including Legend Group, Acer BBK Electronics Company Ltd., ESS Technology, Haier Group Co., Integrated Technology Express Inc., Philips Consumer Electronics, and Stone JinBin Co. announced support.

Some of the companies showed prototypes during Gates' presentation.

The backing of Chinese PC giant Legend is important. "We will cooperate with Microsoft in all areas including promotion and distribution," Chairman and President of Legend Liu Chuanzhi.

Legend said the "set-top" box will use a version of the CE operating system tailored for the Chinese market.

Liu said Microsoft's Venus project would stimulate interest in the Internet among Chinese consumers, and would indirectly boost demand for low-cost non-PC products.

"Non-PC products will become more and more mature and popular in China in next two to three years," Liu said.

Manufacturers will announce pricing based on their own unique feature sets in the second half of calendar year 1999.

Microsoft?s Venus technology uses Windows CE, Microsoft?s Internet Explorer, the WebTV service, and Pocket Word and Pocket Excel.

Venus devices will also exploit VCD technology. This is the foundation for a class of consumer electronics devices popular in China. VDS, or video CDs, are similar to other video devices such as videocassette recorders and DVD and laserdisk players, according to Microsoft. In China, movies and other entertainment are commonly made available in a multidisk VCD format similar in appearance to audio CDs.

In China, there is only one personal computer for every 3,000 people, and television sets are far more common, a Legend official said.

Legend's parent company, Legend Group Holdings Company, was established in Beijing in 1984, under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Reuters contributed to this report.