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Microsoft Pushes Ultra Mobile Computing

Microsoft is aiming for broad, general acceptance of a whole new category of carry-everywhere, always-connected computing devices with batteries that last all day long.
SEATTLE -- Getting a computer on every desktop is so yesterday.

Microsoft's newest mission is pushing for a Mobile PC for every person. These are not run-of-the-mill laptops or desktop replacements. Microsoft is aiming for broad, general acceptance of a whole new category of carry-everywhere, always-connected computing devices with batteries that last all day long.

In fact, the software giant told hardware makers Tuesday to expect 100 million of these highly mobile PCs to sell by 2008.

The ambitious one-mobile-PC-per-person goal may be achievable sooner than you might expect, Microsoft executives told attendees of the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference.

"The big goal by 2008 is getting to 100 million of these machines that are truly portable, that customers can carry a good fraction of their working day," said Microsoft's Bill Mitchell, vice president, mobile platforms division.

Market research indicates that mobile computing is growing 15 percent more than computing in general, Mitchell said. Most of the action today, however, still centers around light notebooks and desktop replacements, which are "effectively about as mobile as a coffee maker. Most people are moving them from one AC outlet to another." Future growth in mobile computing will occur in segments he described as ultra-portable and ultra-mobile.

Bill Gates, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect, described one such ultra-portable device during his WinHEC keynote Monday. Dubbed the Ultra Mobile 2007, that device was about the size of a paperback book. Gates described it as costing less than $1,000, weighing less than 2 pounds, and having a camera, phone, music player, and video player.

"Think about the number of hours per day that people use PCs," Micthell said. "It's a pretty tiny slice, a tiny fraction of 24 hours."

There are three main technology barriers before ultra mobile computing becomes mainstream, Mitchell said, citing form factors, battery life and time to access. Once those are resolved, the industry will be closer to having devices that are truly useable 24 hours day.

He called Tablet PC a "noble attempt to get there very quickly" and showed a new set of Tablet features that Microsoft hopes will accelerate demand. Microsoft's Experience Pack for Tablet PC includes new Windows Media Player skin, Ink art, and Ink crossword.

Mitchell also demo'd new Tablet PC hardware with new display features such as a kickstand, direct hinge designs, and pivoting screens.

The next major revision of Windows, code-named Longhorn, would go much farther to support mainstream mobility. Among the mobile features in Longhorn will be auxiliary displays, high-end graphics, and touch screen capabilities.

"One big investment in Longhorn is fast access to your information," Mitchell said. One of the fastest will be through auxiliary displays, which may be built into the back of a laptop lid and shows simple entries like calendars or e-mail. It's designed to give quick access so the user doesn't have to open and boot up a laptop to retrieve some information. The auxiliary display can become effectively a remote control for what happening inside the PC. In theory, it could extend to sending the information out to other small devices, such as cell phones or wristwatches.

With progress being made on battery life and other barriers, Mitchell urged the hardware OEMs to start thinking about some new killer scenarios, to make mobile computing more of a versatile and 24-hour-a-day experience and to drive mobile hardware sales to exceed the current skyrocketing sales rates of mobile phones.