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Microsoft to detail PC-centric consumer plans at WinHEC

Posted: 12 Apr 2002 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Microsoft? Windows Hardware Engineering Conference? WinHEC? PC? home network?

Microsoft Corp. will provide fresh technical details on the company's PC-centric approach to consumer electronics when it opens the doors on its Windows Hardware Engineering Conference next week. While the annual meeting of about 3,000 developers will address a broad range of topics related to desktop, notebook and server design, a first look into the company's so-called eHome initiative is expected to attract the most interest.

In a track of six sessions kicked off by Michael Toutonghi, vice president of Microsoft's eHome division and a key architect of its .Net strategy, the company will provide "an early look at Microsoft's advanced end-to-end architecture for managed home devices and services," creating a platform for running "distributed applications on all PCs and devices on home networks," according to WinHEC materials available online.

The Windows home networking plumbing will be built on Microsoft's existing Universal Plug and Play and Windows Media technologies. It will also address how to handle streaming media and security on home nets.

Turning up the heat

One session in the track will show new hardware and software for controlling lighting, HVAC, security and other home devices via Windows PCs. Microsoft will also provide more details about its so-called Mira and Freestyle initiatives for letting PCs host sessions displayed on a TV, tablet or other device.

"They will talk fairly extensively about the [eHome] technology," said Stacey Breyfogle, a group program manager in charge of WinHEC. Microsoft declined, however, to reveal more details about its eHome plans before the conference.

In other consumer initiatives, Microsoft will detail Mercury, a portable, lightweight digital rights management (DRM) technology from the Windows Media group. The product marks a break with Microsoft's past policy of insisting it handle all the porting work on its current DRM technology, which one engineer said required too large a memory footprint for many consumer systems.

The group will also renew a pitch made last summer for using the Corona version of the Windows Media Player and embedded versions of Windows in consumer devices such as DVD players. Separately, Microsoft will also discuss how developers can create personal video recorder applications in Windows XP.

In its bread-and-butter PC turf, Microsoft will detail its Universal Audio Architecture, a hardware-level interface for audio functions embedded in PC chip sets. It will also detail a new graphics architecture for Longhorn, the next version of Windows.

Only four of some 110 sessions at WinHEC will be devoted to security issues, despite Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates' recent high-profile memo that urged the company to make security a top priority. One session will discuss support in Windows for smart cards, with an announcement expected from smart-card maker Gemplus. Another session will detail support in Windows for biometric identification devices, and two sessions will discuss Microsoft's trusted computing initiative.

Limited innovation

While sessions will also give some details on next-generation desktop and server versions of Windows, some observers see Microsoft injecting all too little excitement into these mainstream platforms.

"There aren't many people doing really innovative stuff right now," said Dean McCarron, principal of Mercury Research, a longtime PC analyst.

The USB 2.0 and 1394 serial interfaces are beginning to catch on in mainstream systems which are transitioning from a Socket 370/Celeron to a Pentium 4 processor interface, McCarron said. The PC is now plagued by fewer major problems than it was several years ago when arcane interrupt requests and legacy parallel interfaces bogged down desktops.

"The hardware is not as broken as it once was so the need for initiatives and programs is not as great," McCarron said.

But the lack of new technologies or applications are leaving some OEMs bitter about slowing growth in mainstream consumer and commercial computer markets "I don't see a breakthrough or change that will really stimulate the market," said one senior computer engineer who asked not to be named.

? Rick Merritt

EE Times

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