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Longhorn, new PCs on tap for WinHEC

Microsoft will disclose more details about the next "big" version of Windows and show off prototypes of smart set-top boxes and PCs at its Windows Hardware Engineering Conference.

Microsoft will disclose more details about the next "big" version of Windows and show off prototypes of smart set-top boxes and PCs at its Windows Hardware Engineering Conference this week.
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Microsoft's new Longhorn operating system, expected to debut in late 2004 or early 2005, will likely feature new file systems for pictures or games without having to detour to the control panel, according to recently disclosed information on test versions. The operating system also will come with new versions of Windows Messenger, Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player.

Meanwhile, the company will show off a prototype, co-developed with graphics chipmaker ATI Technologies, that will make it easier to extract data--such as recorded TV shows or pictures--from PCs and show them on the big screen, said Dennis Flanagan, eHome product unit manager at Microsoft. The television "is a window onto the PC," he said.

Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard also will trot out a modular PC prototype, code-named Athens, that will better combine video conferencing, messaging and other communications inside a computer.

The Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) is taking place in New Orleans May 5-8. Various computer and chip companies tend to use the three-day conference to unfurl their PC and server agendas for the next two years.

Last year, Intel President Paul Otellini showed off a sample of Madison, a new version of Itanium coming in a few months, and disclosed that Intel had developed prototypes of the mobile Pentium M, which came out in February.

Longhorn's foghorn
Longhorn-related seminars at the conference include presentations on improving the audio and video experience on Longhorn PCs; how to design devices such as portable media players so that they can easily be plugged into the computers; and color and display management for the Longhorn operating system. Connecting devices via Universal Plug and Play networking or wireless is going to be a large focus in some of the presentations.

Several sessions also are dedicated to the Next-Generation Secure Computing Base, formerly known as Palladium, a software layer that Microsoft says will reduce security flaws in Windows-based boxes. The company has disclosed how the technology works conceptually, but hasn't delved deep into details.

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Other highlights at WinHEC:

• For the home, Microsoft will discuss new software initiatives and products that will make it easier for PCs to talk to other electronics devices. The company will begin to ship drivers for Windows for the Universal Audio Architecture, which will improve sound quality in devices that adopt the standard. Microsoft will also discuss the Multimedia Transport Protocol, which will make it easier to swap files between devices.

"The protocol is extremely efficient at exchanging large collections of data or small bits of huge collections," similar to finding and swapping a single song out of a collection of 1,000 MP3 files, Flanagan said.

• Some hardware manufacturers are expected to discuss the forthcoming spring PC lineup as well as updates to Smart Displays--a portable screen that can be used to troll the Internet or send e-mail--coming later this year. Nearly every manufacturer is prepping desktops using Intel's Springdale chipset, which comes with a faster system bus and other performance enhancements.

• Microsoft is testing a future version of Media Center, code-named Harmony, according to sources. The second test version is due sometime in May.

• Advanced Micro Devices will discuss the performance of its Opteron chip, while Microsoft engineers will provide technical details about the coming version of Windows for the chip.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates will open the convention with a keynote speech Tuesday. Dean Kamen, father of the Segway Human Transporter, and Jen-Hsun Huang, CEO of graphics chip specialist Nvidia, will follow with their own speeches.

Other speakers during the show include David Thompson, corporate vice president of the Windows Server group at Microsoft, and Peter Glaskowsky, editor in chief of the Microprocessor Forum.