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IBM ready to jump on "Jupiter"

Big Blue is designing a Windows CE device that is roughly the same size as a mini-notebook. The move could invigorate the market.

IBM will come to market in the first quarter with one of the largest Windows CE devices known to man.

The computing giant will release a device running Microsoft's Windows CE operating system that is roughly the same size as a mini-notebook and one that is larger than the so-called "Jupiter" devices released so far by Hewlett-Packard and others, IBM executives told CNET in an interview today. Jupiter is the codename for Microsoft's latest version of Windows CE, the operating system for handheld devices and embedded systems.

The screen on IBM's mobile PC companion measures 8.2 inches diagonally, or around 2 inches larger than HP's Journada. The overall machine measures 7.9 inches deep by 10.2 inches wide and is 1.2 inches thick. It will come with 32MB of RAM memory, a color screen, and a 33.6-kbps modem. Ordinary battery life goes for 8 hours, but an additional battery pack will boost it to 20 hours, the company said. It will cost under $1,000.

IBM's move into Windows CE devices could well serve as a validation of the category and may will encourage other top-tier notebook vendors such as Toshiba and Compaq Computer to jump in with similar devices. Compaq has offered handheld Windows CE devices based on a design from Casio, but is considering producing larger portable based on a design of its own.

The dimensions of the IBM product emerge from a desire on the company's part to avoid making the devices too small, according to Adalio Sanchez, general manager of IBM's Mobile Computing group. The last generation of handheld devices did not sell in large numbers because of their small size. Mini-notebooks have also not fared that well North America for the same reason.

"Sometimes you can have something that is too thin," he said.

Although IBM's upcoming companion is roughly the same size as a mini-notebook, the company has tried to get around some of the inconvenience of the form factor. Keys on the keyboard, for instance, are sized differently according to usage patterns, and some are moved. The "tilda" key, for example, is not next to the number 1 as on a standard keyboard. Instead, it is on a relatively small key next to the Q.

"We want the feeling that you have a normal-sized keyboard," he said.