The product will allow consumers to link their Windows-based PCs, printers, and other devices together to share files, Internet access, or even play multi-player video games.
3Com and Microsoft are just the latest companies to enter the fledgling home networking market that is expected to boom in the next few years, as high-speed Internet access technologies become widely available.
Intel, Nortel Networks' NetGear, S3's Diamond Multimedia, and other firms are all competing for a piece of the market and have already shipped their own home networking products.
These firms see a future where all electronic devices can be networked together, potentially transforming life at home and at work. Analysts say once home networking technology advances, a person could turn on the air conditioning through his or her TV, or keep an eye on the house over a video security camera feed to a Web browser at work.
The new product from 3Com and Microsoft is aimed at two markets. The companies are looking at homeowners whose residences are wired with Ethernet, a networking technology that the computer industry uses to connect PCs together, as well as telecommuters who want access to their home printer or home Internet connection.
3Com and Microsoft struck a a partnership this spring for home networking products. The Ethernet-based networking kit is one of the first products the companies plan to release from their partnership.
Because Ethernet connections require users to string wire between networked PCs, 3Com and Microsoft plan to build networking kits that don't require additional wires. They expect to release a new kit this fall that will allow users to link PCs together by plugging them into phone jacks. Early next year, alliance plans to take the technology a step farther with the release of wireless technology for PC networking.
3Com and Microsoft's new networking kit, which runs at speeds of 10 to 100 megabits per second, is similar to networking products 3Com offers to small businesses. The addition of Microsoft software makes it simple for home users to install and manage a network, said David Sandford, product line manager for 3Com's home networking products.
When a user plugs in a printer, the software will automatically recognize it and connect it to the all the PCs on a network, he said. The kit will also allows a telecommuter to simply toggle back and forth between network settings at home and at work.
"It's a unique feature for notebook users. They can come home and plug into the home network [then] go back to the office and work on that office network," Sandford said.
The companies' HomeConnect Home Network Ethernet Kit features two networking cards that plug into PCI slots for $180. The external Ethernet kit, which plugs into a USB port, costs $190. The two companies are also selling hubs that allow users to link up to five PCs together.