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Windows CE finds digs in new Net devices

Looking to prove that its operating system has legs for the consumer electronics market, Microsoft is showing six new devices based on its desktop OS.

LAS VEGAS--Looking to prove that its Windows CE operating system has legs for the consumer electronics market, Microsoft is showing off six new devices based on the slimmed-down version of its desktop OS.

The devices, scheduled for unveiling Saturday at the Consumer Electronics Show here, range from Web-surfing tablets from Samsung and Siemens to Internet radios to a wearable Internet appliance from Hitachi.

"What's good about this announcement Read more breaking CES news here is that we are seeing names familiar in consumer markets," Gartner analyst Chris LeTocq said. "This has the possibility to extend the Microsoft brand into the consumer market."

LeTocq added that consumers should not be surprised to see the Microsoft logo pop up on a range of devices, much as it shows up today on PCs.

The new devices share the ability to grab information from the Internet, with support for the Windows Media Player and a modified version of Internet Explorer 4.0, which Microsoft said has about 90 percent of the features contained in the PC version.

"This flexibility broadens the range of possibilities for manufacturers," said Megan Kidd, product manger for the embedded and appliance platform group at Microsoft.

However, LeTocq questioned just how many inroads this will give Microsoft.

"It's true that there is flexibility, but so what?" LeTocq said. "That is what embedded platforms are designed for. A better announcement would have been if they had said that they are supporting new processors."

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates demonstrated the wearable Hitachi device during his opening keynote at CES on Saturday. Other Windows CE-based Internet appliances that Microsoft will announce at CES include Abocom's Infopilot MA1000, which is a wireless Web-surfing pad, and Siemens' Simpad, a Web-surfing tablet with wireless networking that is expected to hit the market in late spring.

Samsung is also offering a portable Web tablet called the Izzi Web Pad. The Web pad will allow consumers to browse the Web and send instant messages.

Youngha Lee, director of Samsung Electronics, said in an interview that his company chose Windows CE because it is easy to program and offers an open architecture for other programmers to build on.

"Windows CE has many kinds of applications," Lee said. "I cannot say it is 100 percent perfect. It has its pros and cons."

Samsung's tablet will be aimed at both consumers and niche business markets and should be ready to ship later in the first quarter. It will cost $1,000 to $1,100. The unit uses the 802.11 wireless standard, meaning the consumers will also need to install an access point, which typically costs in the range of $250 to $300.

On the audio front, DigMedia and SmartMedia both announced Internet radio appliances at CES. DigMedia's DigRadio will allow listeners to search for streaming radio content over the Web. SmartMedia's DDL Player will also allow listeners to pick up radio stations from across the world via the Web.

Although all these devices use Windows CE 3.0, Kidd said Microsoft is working on the next version of the operating system, which is due out at the end of this year and should show up in devices in 2002.

News.com's Ian Fried contributed to this report.