Gates unwraps the XBox at consumer show

InfoWorld |  Operating Systems

Whistler dispenses with the old Windows 9x code and is based instead on the same software core or "kernel" as Windows 2000. "By moving Windows 2000 to the (consumer) PC, we create a machine you'll be leaving on 24 hours a day, a machine that can continue to act as a server for the picture frames, the music devices, the peripherals around the house," Gates said. "Instead of having a disk in each of those devices, you can have one copy stored on your PC."

Whistler also attempts to do away with most of the icons that clutter the screen when a PC is first turned on. Instead, the OS presents users with a simple log-in screen that allows up to four users to log on and be presented with their own applications and data. Clicking on one of the log-in names takes the user to a more traditional lookiing Windows screen.

Gates hosted a demonstration of a forthcoming version of Microsoft's Pocket PC platform for PDAs (personal digital assistants), called Pocket PC Plus. A prototype iPaq PDA from Compaq Computer was shown that included full voice recognition, allowing a user to create e-mails or set up calendar entries using voice commands. Until now, a lack of processing power and memory have made speech recognition hard to achieve effectively on handheld computers.

Using a wireless connection provided by the 802.11b standard, the device was also used to watch a video clip and listen to music broadcast from a PC across the stage. Gates didn't say when Pocket PC Plus would be released commercially.

Gates' notion of the PC as a server for multiple devices echoes remarks made here Friday night by Craig Barrett, Intel's chief executive officer and president. Both executives referred to the "extended PC" era in which they see the PC's value being enhanced by its role as a storage and communications hub for digital cameras, Internet appliances, set-top boxes and other peripherals around the home and office.

While they insist the PC will continue to play a central role, both companies have tacitly acknowledged the changing landscape by making substantial investments in other products: Intel in networking equipment and digital music players, for example, and Microsoft in its gaming console, WebTV set-top box and Pocket PC platform.

Gates also showed prototype devices developed by Microsoft to illustrate the kind of world people can expect to live in when wireless networking technologies like 802.11b and Bluetooth become commonplace, and if standards like Microsoft's Universal Plug and Play, which allows multiple devices to be linked easily to a network, catch on. The devices included an alarm clock with an LCD (liquid-crystal display) screen and a speaker that was used to play music delivered wirelessly from a PC.

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