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As Gadgeteers Converge, So Do Their Many Devices

At CES and Macworld, new techniques for content sharing take the stage.

For years, computer companies have tried to sell consumers ways to manage their microprocessor-powered devices and the multimedia content on them, largely by trying to make PCs operate more like TVs, stereos, and other living room appliances. This week, Apple Computer, Intel, Microsoft, and others will try to chart a new course toward convergence, one in which networks and servers play the leading role.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates will unveil the company's design for a new Windows Home Server that's capable of letting families with multiple PCs share documents, photos, and other files. Hewlett-Packard plans to deliver the first home server based on the software later this year, and Microsoft will host Web sites where users can view photo collections and other files, served up by their home networks, over the Internet.

Look for Jobs to promote his latest toy at Macworld

Look for Jobs to promote his latest toy at Macworld
In San Francisco, Apple CEO Steve Jobs will take the stage at the company's annual Macworld conference. He's expected to divulge details about a $300 device code-named iTV that can wirelessly transmit movies and other video files from a PC to a TV. Jobs disclosed the under-development product in September. Tech-savvy consumers have loaded their PCs and iPods with concert clips, movies, and TV shows, but there's been no popular way to watch that content on a standard television.

Intel last week entered a partnership with movie site CinemaNow, which the companies say will let users download and burn Hollywood movies to DVD faster using PCs equipped with Intel's Viiv chips. Those PCs are capable of high-definition video playback and surround sound, and the disks they burn are playable on standard DVD players, too.

At CES, Intel will introduce its first Core 2 processor with four cores for consumer PCs, according to sources with knowledge of the company's plans. The improved performance could speed downloading and burning of multimedia content.

Motorola and Cisco Systems' Scientific Atlanta division are working on tuning their set-top boxes to get video from the Web. Cisco chief development officer Charles Giancarlo says the company at CES will lay out its strategy for "networked homes." Motorola plans to unveil products and services that support the distribution and access of multimedia content across different networks--cellular and noncellular, for instance--though details were sketchy last week.

NETWORKS NEEDED

As consumers amass multiple PCs, cell phones, iPods, and digital cameras, the need for technologies to manage all the information residing on them is growing. "As computers and digital media become more and more central to family life, we need better ways to organize, share, and protect digital content," Gates said in a statement. At the same time, the explosion of online video is creating demand for faster networks and more storage.

IT managers are paying close attention: As workers increasingly use PCs and handhelds for both work and personal tasks, the approaches previewed at CES and Macworld could suggest new strategies for coping.

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