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Origami: Enough of anything?

Microsoft's "ultramobile" PC will be small and light. But company had more ambitious goals in mind.

Microsoft's Origami is shaping up to be cheaper and smaller than today's Tablet PC, but the device will likely miss the software maker's most ambitious targets for size, price and battery life.

When Chairman Bill Gates first outlined the notion of an ultramobile PC at a hardware conference last year, he talked about a device that would weigh less than a pound, have all-day battery life and could cost less than $800, possibly as little as $500.

Those are still Microsoft's goals when it comes to its much talked-about Origami project. However, the first Origami devices, which are set to arrive before the end of April, will likely not reach those lofty ideals. Instead, the machines are likely to start somewhere near the $800 mark and have battery life that hovers around four hours, according to a source familiar with the first-generation products.

Microsoft for its part has said little, other than to confirm that it continues to explore the notion of a small-size PC it first talked about at last year's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference. As is typical, Microsoft will not make the devices but will provide the software for them to other companies, which will build the actual hardware.

The company has posted a that has . Though the site suggests people check back on Thursday, the full details are not expected until a trade show later in March, likely the CeBit show that takes place March 9 to 15 in Hannover, Germany.

One of the challenges in bringing down the price of the minitablets is that the first devices will lack the sales volume needed to achieve the cost benefits that come with mass-market products. Origami device makers can save by using some standard PC parts, such as notebook drives, value-priced processors and commodity memory. However, even those components add up, especially when combined with the screen and any wireless technologies.

Still, Microsoft is expected to make a retail push with the first crop of devices, even as they are sold into the same kinds of business and education markets that have historically been more amenable to the Tablet PC.

Origami is not the first effort to shrink the PC. For some time, OQO has sold a supersmall PC with a slide-out keyboard. On the tablet side, start-up Dualcor Technologies announced in January the cPC, a $1,500 device with a 5-inch screen and Windows XP. The tiny tablet is somewhat similar to the Origami idea, but it is aimed at businesses and has cell-phone capabilities built in.

Initial buyers of the Origami will likely have to weigh whether its small size makes it a better bet than low-end laptops, which, though bulkier, offer faster processors, larger screens and full-size keyboards.