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Next PCs eyed at Windows show

Cheap PCs, home computing, Windows 98, and new chips headline the topics slated for discussion at a major Windows conference next week.

Cheap PCs, home computing, Windows 98, and new chips headline the topics slated for discussion at next week's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference, a major industry event for engineers who design the latest and greatest hardware for the Windows operating system.

The three-day conference, set for March 24-27 in Orlando, Florida, serves as a touchstone for changes in hardware architecture. Microsoft typically uses the conference to promote and announce new PC technologies for the coming year.

A number of companies, including Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, will also attend the event to detail future product plans.

Speakers include Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, who will expound upon "Web lifestyle," a topic he addressed last year at the release party for Internet Explorer 4.0, and Pat Gelsinger, vice president of the business platform group at Intel.

Some of the major topics include:

  • Jay Torborg, director of Windows multimedia at Microsoft, will look at the next two years of planned enhancements to Microsoft's multimedia technology, known as DirectX, including the "Fahrenheit" initiative. Torborg will go over Microsoft's Direct3D, DirectMusic, and DVD playback technologies.

  • Mike Aymar, vice president and general manager of Intel's Consumer Products Group, and Pat Gelsinger will describe Intel's processor, chipset, and technology road maps for the next several years. Major issues include using the processor to improve video performance and building TV set-top computing devices.

  • Eric Engstrom, general manager of Internet Multimedia at Microsoft, will describe Microsoft initiatives to improve the Internet experience by using Intel's Accelerated Graphics Port 3D graphics technology and Microsoft?s Direct3D.

    Forums will include:

  • Windows for Low-Cost Markets. A comparison of upcoming integrated chips, which incorporate many of the PC's core features into one chip, vs. traditional designs that use separate chips. This will be compared to hybrid, or media processor, approaches.

  • Windows and Imaging Devices. This forum will show how the upcoming Windows 98 and Windows NT 5.0 operating systems can be used to run imaging devices on the PC. The session will also explain the new Windows Still Imaging (STI) architecture. Technologies to be discussed include STI for scanners and digital cameras.

  • Home Connectivity: Tying Together Consumer Systems and Devices. Topics include linking multiple consumer PCs or connecting together many consumer devices and the market opportunity for home network solutions.

  • Future of CPU Bus Architectures. In this forum, chip vendors such as AMD, Cyrix, Integrated Device Technology (IDT), and Intel will present their plans for the Pentium-class PC segment, also referred to as the "Socket 7" market. This compares with the newer "Slot-1" market based on the Pentium II chip.

  • Audio Technology: The Next Wave. A description of how Microsoft DirectSound3D and DirectMusic technologies allow applications to exploit new audio hardware.

  • Intel Pentium and Pentium II Processors: Intel-compatible Processors from AMD, Cyrix, and IDT, and Digital Equipment. The seminar will include a forecast of the future roadmaps for AMD, Cyrix, Digital, IDT, and Intel.

  • DVD and Digital TV. The PC is becoming a place to view full-motion video such as movies and TV. "This requires a paradigm shift--PCs are becoming television sets and vice versa," according to Microsoft. Video can be delivered over the airwaves, on a DVD disc, via cable, on the Internet, or from a satellite. This forum will outline the digital television strategy at Microsoft.

    Microsoft's PC design recommendations for the coming year will come from two different directions this year, according to product manager Stacey Breyfogle. On one end of the spectrum, Microsoft will lay out its requirements for improving PC quality and customer ease of use. At the other end, the company will detail its demands on how PC manufacturers should try to promote "new usage scenarios" through new form factors or features.

    The incorporation of these improvements into PCs is far from immediate, however. Microsoft released a beta version of its PC 98 design guidelines last year at the conclusion of the 1997 WinHec conference, and the technical specifications were finalized earlier this year. But PCs that completely incorporate the specifications will not be out until 1999, Breyfogle said.

    Similarly, Microsoft will come out with a trial version of its PC 99 specifications at the conference, which will be incorporated into computers for 2000.

    PC manufacturers are not required to adopt the recommendations, Breyfogle said, but must employ them in order to include certain Microsoft brand tokens on their products. To get a brand "bug" from Microsoft which says that a given computer is an "entertainment" computer, for instance, a PC manufacturer has to incorporate a TV tuner card. Manufacturers can still market "entertainment" computers without the tuner card, but they will not be able to slap Redmond's token on their box, she said.