March 30, 2001, 1:41 PM — MICROSOFT IS WORKING with Transmeta to incorporate Transmeta's Crusoe processor in the software maker's Tablet PC, a portable computer due next year that will allow users to jot down handwritten notes using a touch-screen pen, Transmeta announced Monday.
Microsoft is using Transmeta's 600MHz TM5600 chip to develop "reference designs" for the Tablet PC or prototypes that will be sent to manufacturers to show them how the device can be built. The announcement confirms rumors that have circulated for months about a tie-up between the companies.
The partnership is nonexclusive, meaning that Microsoft can also develop Tablet PCs with chips from other vendors. Nevertheless, it is important because it demonstrates support in the industry for Transmeta's chips, which are designed to meet the low-power requirements of portable devices, said David Ditzel, the company's vice chairman and chief technology officer, in a telephone interview Friday from the CeBit trade show in Germany.
"I think it's a huge deal for Transmeta," Ditzel said. "Microsoft is developing the next-generation user interface [for Tablet PC] on top of Crusoe, and they'll be offering that platform as a reference design, I presume, for other vendors to go and manufacture."
Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman and chief software architect, first showed the Tablet PC in November at the Comdex trade show in Las Vegas. Resembling a child's Etch A Sketch, the device will use Microsoft's new Windows XP operating system and run most standard Windows applications. The goal, Gates said, is to combine the power of a PC with the convenience and portability of a pen and paper. As such, users will be able to scribble handwritten notes on the device using a special stylus, and then search and edit those notes much as they can with a Microsoft Word document today. The Tablet PC can also be used at a desk with a traditional keyboard.
Microsoft hasn't disclosed which manufacturers are expected to make the device. The first Tablet PCs probably won't go on sale for a year or more, Ditzel said. This concurs with predictions made by Microsoft officials at Comdex in November.
Transmeta is competing with Intel, National Semiconductor, and a handful of other chip makers to provide silicon for Web tablets, the generic name for computers such as the Tablet PC. Indeed, Intel spokeswoman Shannon Johnson said Friday that Microsoft is also creating Tablet PC prototypes using Intel processors. Microsoft didn't return numerous calls Friday seeking confirmation.
In its statement Monday, Transmeta said the companies are working to optimize Windows XP for the mobile segment, where performance, low weight, cool running temperatures, and long battery life are considered essential.