The Microsoft Cordless Phone System, as it is called, uses software running on a Windows-based PC to enable users to place a call and check messages using spoken commands.
The Call Manager software uses
"[The software allows] users to place calls and check messages by speaking simple commands spoken into the cordless handset. For example, by directing the telephone to 'call Dad,' the system will recognize the command as an instruction to place a call to the number listed for 'Dad,'" Microsoft said in a prepared statement.
The software also lets users create individual voicemail boxes and logs incoming and outgoing calls. Caller-ID functions can be used to create different greetings for different callers.
The new phone is an example of how technologies from the once distinct consumer electronics and PC industries are converging in new categories digital information appliances, and Microsoft has been one of the more aggressive companies to push its brand name into markets beyond the PC desktop.
The company recently introduced a $349 high-tech remote control that will be co-branded with audio/video equipment maker Harmon Kardon, one of the first products not to use a Windows-based operating system in it.
The company also puts its name on palm-size information appliances similar to 3Com's PalmPilot device that use the Windows CE operating system, and is working on an as yet unreleased "AutoPC" that combines a car stereo with voice recognition technology and Windows CE.
Through the acquisition of WebTV, the company offers consumers a low-cost Internet set-top computer through hardware manufacturing partners like Sony and Philips, and is partnering with numerous other consumer electronics manufacturers in areas such as digital cable set-top boxes, home networking, advanced digital televisions. (See related story).
The 900-MHz cordless phone system needs a PC with at least a 90-MHz Pentium, Windows 95 or 98, an available serial port, and 16MB of free memory to run. The system will be available in November at office supply stores and computer stores around the U.S.
Microsoft's entry into the phone market could potentially put it in competition against companies it partners with in other arenas, but officials don't see that as a hindrance.
"Sometimes Microsoft will undertake a project to prove a concept and kick- start the market; we expect other people to get in the market," said Scot Schulte, product manager for computer phones. "We're open to partnerships in the future (with cordless phone manufacturers) on products like this."