Saturday, March 11, 2006

Q & A: Microsoft's Project Origami Models

Amid the biggest hype since it launched the Xbox 360 in November, Microsoft today is unveiling its "Origami Project," a new category of handheld computer that could become the next must-have digital device.

But there's a risk people will be turned off by the first versions, which are bigger and more expensive than expected and run only for about three hours on a single battery charge. Samsung is set to sell the first models in the U.S. next month for $599 to $1,000, depending on features included.

Origami Project was the code-name for a new category of PC that Microsoft and Intel have been developing for more than a year. They hope the devices will become small and cheap enough that most PC users will buy one to supplement their home and office machines, staying constantly connected via wireless networks.

The Samsung has a 7-inch diameter screen, runs Windows XP Tablet Edition and weighs under 2 pounds. Some models will have global positioning systems and wide-area networking features. Storage capacity will range from 30 to 60 gigabytes.

Samsung's model comes with a program that can display TV broadcasts transmitted wirelessly if users have a Slingbox, a separate device that costs around $200, attached to their home set.

Chinese PC maker Founder is preparing to sell a version there, and Asus Computer is expected to sell another version soon in the U.S. and Europe.

Among the device's software advances are touch-screen capabilities and a digital version of the Sudoku numbers puzzle.

Future versions will be based on Windows Vista, the new Microsoft operating system coming later this year, and a new chip set with all-day battery life that Intel is to deliver in 2007 and 2008.

Some of the devices with XP will be able to upgrade to Vista.

If the devices cost $1,000, people may buy a laptop instead, so Microsoft, Intel and PC makers have to keep prices around $500, said Bob O'Donnell, vice president of client research at IDC.

"If in one device I can get the equivalent of a GPS and a Web terminal and e-mail machine and media playback device, it starts to become a little more interesting," he said.


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