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Microsoft: Windows NT for homes

Microsoft says Windows NT ultimately is for home PCs but doesn't say much else at its Windows Hardware Engineering Conference.

ORLANDO, Florida--Microsoft (MSFT) promised to push Windows NT for home computers and touched on home networking, but otherwise fell short on its promise to say how it will incorporate the Windows operating system everywhere in the home during the keynote speech at its Windows Hardware Engineering Conference here.

Important issues such as cable integration with Windows NT have apparently been tabled until PC Futures, an upcoming Microsoft conference to be held in St. Louis on June 9 to 11, according to Richard Doherty, president of the Envisioneering Group. Microsoft executives Jim Allchin and Carl Stork jointly gave the opening address.

Many of the technologies Microsoft spoke of, some pointed out, were similar to the topics discussed last year. "USB [universal serial bus] is still in the same spot," said Michael Slater, founder of MicroDesign Resources. "IEEE 1394 is still a niche product." Both are "plug-and-play" technologies designed to make it easier for users to connect peripheral devices to a PC.

Microsoft is using the conference to encourage hardware developers to improve the customer experience and expand PC usage, said Allchin, a senior vice-president at the Redmond, Washington, company. One of the forthcoming innovations will be a "Hibernate" command that appears on the shut-down window, designed to allow users to quickly restart. It was not clear how this would be different from the "sleep" or "suspend" mode already found on PCs.

Stork, a Microsoft general manager for hardware products, acknowledged that there are several outstanding questions regarding the company's consumer strategy. "Moving over from [the] commercial [sector] to the home, it's less clear where we're going. I don't think we have yet developed the technology or form factors that will be used in the home."

Allchin made it clear that NT is the platform of the future for Microsoft, saying the software giant is putting most of its development resources into the operating system, which will become part and parcel of notebooks. By contrast, Windows CE will become the OS of choice for handheld devices and embedded systems. "We are trying to leverage the CE operating system into set-top boxes and into the TVs themselves," Allchin said.

For the consumer, this will eventually lead to networked households where an NT-based PC or server act as a control center for phones, smaller PCs, and Digital TVs, Doherty predicted.

In hardware development, Microsoft will concentrate on three areas: improving customer experience, lowering the total cost of ownership, and shifting Windows to more devices, or "new usage scenarios."

To improve customer experience, Microsoft will work on power management for notebooks as well as develop "hot docking" technologies so that notebooks can be plugged into networks from remote locations without having to shut down. To reduce the cost of use, Microsoft will roll out a technology called "Sysclone" that will allow computer vendors to more easily customize their desktops as well as load Windows more easily across hundreds of desktops.

One new usage scenario Microsoft envisions is its "Intellimirror" technology. Under Intellimirror, the entire contents of a desktop are mirrored on a server. While this takes up more server resources, it makes swapping desktops simple, said Allchin.

Expanding Windows, however, is the area where the company appears to be giving most of its attention. In a spin on the digital TV category, Allchin and Dave Marsh, a Microsoft product manager, demonstrated a PC that ran multiple screens. One screen showed a DVD movie. On the other a word processor was running. Both were running off the same computer. To prove it, Marsh dragged the word processing document and dropped it onto the DVD screen.

Microsoft also debuted "Chrome" which allows web designers to more easily incorporate 3D onto web pages.

Still, large segments of the audience acted as if they were watching reruns. "It's deja vu all over again," said Dwight Davis, an analyst with Summit Strategies.

Slater even pointed out with glee that his slide projecting the use of USB had not changed at all since last year.

The conference will continue for two more days. A number of important PC industry companies, including Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, are also schedule to detail future product plans.