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Microsoft to show off PC prototype

At next week's WinHEC gathering, the software potentate plans to unveil a PC design, developed with HP, that's intended to function as a central communications console.

Microsoft next week plans to unveil a prototype PC that would function as a central communications console.

Developed with Hewlett-Packard, the new "Athens" prototype is intended to be the hub for communications and collaboration built around voice, video and text messaging capabilities. It will also feature a more streamlined design, Microsoft said in a statement.

The software giant is set to present the Athens concept at its annual WinHEC (Windows Hardware Engineering Conference) event, taking place in New Orleans.

At the conference, Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman and chief software architect, plans to show off the prototype in a keynote address, the company said in a statement. Athens will likely be one of several PC concepts presented at the conference.

WinHEC traditionally focuses on assisting PC designers in creating hardware and software that is innovative and easier to use. More recently, Microsoft has begun focusing the conference on PCs that connect to and communicate more fluidly with consumer electronics and other devices.

Microsoft and HP of late have collaborated on several products designed to advance the usefulness of the PC.

HP was one of the first PC makers to adopt Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition. That software adds a second interface inside Windows for accessing digital media, such as music, photos and DVD movies. Consumers also can use it to watch and record TV programs using a computer's hard drive and digital video recording features similar to those found in systems from TiVo and other companies.

HP, along with several other manufacturers such as Toshiba, also adopted Microsoft's Windows XP Tablet PC Edition software. That edition of Windows XP includes pen input and handwriting recognition software.