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Microsoft to demonstrate home PC of tomorrow

At the WinHEC show Tuesday, Bill Gates plans to show off the Windows Home Concept--a device and a vision that builds on the company's current Media Center devices.

SEATTLE--Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates plans on Tuesday to show his idea of the home PC of the future--a vision he will be trying to convince computer makers to get behind.

Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard have come up with a concept PC that builds on the company's current Media Center entertainment idea and goes a few steps further. The Media Center PC of the future has a remote control with a built-in LCD screen for programming recordings. The PC, known as the Windows Home Concept, also supports Internet telephony, dual high-definition TV tuners, biometric security, and a built-in cable modem.

Gates will show off the device as he kicks off the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC), a week-long gathering for those who build devices based on or connecting to the Windows operating system.

The prototype is like a concept car--Microsoft doesn't expect it to hit the market in its current form, but rather hopes to get several of the PC's advances into the mainstream within a few years.

Such displays have become commonplace at this show. For several years, Microsoft and HP have been working on a business PC that combines computer and telephony functions, first code-named Agora and then updated as Athens. This year Microsoft will show off some of the Athens ideas that have come to fruition.

In addition to the souped-up Media Center, Gates is also expected to show off a home version of a tablet PC. Microsoft will tout the device as a communications hub for busy families to quickly send schedule updates to others who may need to be reached on another PC, cell phone or other device.

Getting there
Many of the ideas embodied in the two concept devices have been present in Microsoft's vision for a while, but the software maker's dreams are still far from reality. In addition to needing hardware makers to embrace the ideas, Microsoft has work of its own to do. Today's Windows XP can support more than one monitor, but not the sort of simultaneous use of different kinds of displays that the concept PCs use.

"There are advances that need to take place in the OS," said Windows lead product manager Greg Sullivan. "That's our job."

When Windows might be able to actually do all of these things is not clear. Sullivan said some of the capabilities will require Longhorn, the next version of Windows, which Microsoft hopes to ship by mid-2006. Other features may come before Longhorn, he said, while still others might not even be ready in time for the new OS, Sullivan said.

Also, as earlier reported, Microsoft a revised preview edition of Longhorn. The company will formalize a number of changes it has made to its road map in recent weeks, including delaying Windows XP Service Pack 2 until later this summer and the beta version of Longhorn until early next year.

In addition, Microsoft is touting a new software interface designed to allow Windows program to communicate with living-room devices using Web services.

Another hardware advance that Microsoft is likely to discuss is the emergence of 64-bit chips from AMD and Intel for the desktop PC market.

The 64-bit PC is seen by some as more processing capacity than most people need, but Microsoft plans to make the case that the machines are an idea whose time has come, with gaming likely to be among the first markets to benefit from the increased power.

Microsoft will also use the conference to point out that a recent Internet speed record was done using machines running Windows Server 2003.