Week in review: Origami unwrapped

After weeks of rumors, conjecture and suspense, we finally get to see what Microsoft has been tinkering on with its Origami project.

After weeks of rumors, conjecture and suspense, we finally get to see what Microsoft has been tinkering on with its Origami project.

In a preview demonstration, Intel showed CNET News.com several of the ultramobile PC devices, including an example of the kind of hardware that will ship in the next few weeks as part of the Microsoft effort.

The first devices have a 7-inch touch screen and standard x86 processors, and can run full versions of desktop operating systems, including the Windows XP variant being used for Origami. In later generations, due for release probably next year or later, the devices could have the pocket size, all-day battery life and $500 price that Microsoft and Intel are aiming for.

Photos: Minitablets

The first-generation devices are likely to get about three hours of battery life.

Whatever the merits of these devices, reality still trails Microsoft's ambitions. The first-generation devices are bigger, pricier and more power-hungry than the software maker had hoped. Microsoft acknowledged that instead of being a mass-market hit riding a wave of prelaunch hype, these devices are likely to appeal only to the most hard-core gadget fans.

"This is definitely our first step in looking at the area of ultramobile PCs," said Mika Krammer, a Windows marketing director for Microsoft's mobile platforms. "To really hit the mass market...in the hundreds of thousands and the millions of customers, we have to improve," Krammer said. The devices that begin shipping in April are likely to be more of a niche product, he said.

Many CNET News.com readers were left unimpressed with the announcement, and some even questioned seemingly conflicting strategies.

"It would seem to me to be bad timing to 'launch' these things in the shadow of Windows Vista," wrote Frank McNulty in News.com's TalkBack Forum. "For a new hyped product not to be able to run Vista, which is not that far away, would have negative influence on the "geek" and first adopter buyer."

Microsoft expects greater mass appeal to figure in the release of its next operating system. Aiming to recreate the excitement that accompanied the launch of Windows 95, the software giant is gearing up for a massive campaign to launch Windows Vista.

Chairman Bill Gates has tasked the Windows marketing team with repeating its achievements with the launch a decade ago, a challenge that will require convincing scores of people to line up at retail stores to purchase the operating system. The marketing budget won't be finalized until the end of Microsoft's fiscal year in June, but "regardless of that, we're still being held to that goal," said Dave Block, a senior product manager for Vista.

One of Microsoft's chief goals is to spur businesses and consumers into buying higher-end versions of Vista. Microsoft announced last week that there would be six major versions of Vista, including a new "ultimate" edition of the OS that will combine the best of the company's corporate and home features.

Inside Intel
Still, the Origami project was the big buzz as analysts, executives and industry insiders met in San Francisco at the three-day Intel Developer Forum, eager to see what the chipmaker has to offer next.

During the conference, Intel gave a name to the next-generation chip innards, on which it's basing its counterattack against Advanced Micro Devices: the Intel Core microarchitecture. Derived from the design of the Pentium M processor, the architecture puts major emphasis on lowering power consumption and the older priority of boosting performance.

IDF spring 2006

Core microarchitecture is designed to deal with two related pains in computing--excessive power consumption and resulting waste heat. Improving performance per watt gives Intel a new sales pitch at a time that it faces financial troubles and market share losses to rival AMD.

Intel also demonstrated two quad-core processors, "Clovertown" for servers and "Kentsfield" for PCs, directing attention toward the future and away from a more troubled present. Both chips are built using

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