April 27, 2005 4:00 AM PDT

Can Longhorn improve laptops?

SEATTLE--Microsoft's Bill Mitchell wishes consumers were as excited about buying laptops as they are about buying cell phones.

Unfortunately, says Mitchell, head of the company's mobile PC efforts, there are good reasons 700 million cell phones were sold last year, compared with about 50 million laptops. Portable computers are too bulky, too slow and too quick to run out of juice, he told a crowd of computer makers Tuesday.

"Customers are not really getting the value out of mobile PCs that they find in mobile phones," Mitchell said during a speech at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference, or WinHEC, here.


What's new:
Microsoft plans to address some common laptop shortcomings in Longhorn, the new version of Windows that's scheduled for release next year.

Bottom line:
Redmond says it has big plans for Longhorn-era laptops. When the features will make their way into beta, however, is unclear.

More stories on Longhorn

Microsoft plans to address some of these shortcomings in Longhorn, the new version of Windows that's scheduled for release next year. To address the power issue, Microsoft is pushing laptop makers to add features such as flash memory-equipped drives, reducing the number of times a computer must spin a power-hungry hard drive.

Other planned changes include the addition of a "mobility center" that will serve as a single control panel for all manner of laptop-related settings. The concept is similar to the Security Center Microsoft added to Windows XP with Service Pack 2. Microsoft showed off its ideas for the mobility center last year, but Mitchell said the idea has advanced much further.

"Mobility Center is (now) much more real," Mitchell said in an interview. "It has to be real because it has to be in the beta, right?"

Mitchell wouldn't say for certain that the laptop-related features would be in the initial beta version that ships this summer, but he did say that "the mobility group is one of the most schedule-conscious groups in the whole Windows development team."

This week Microsoft also detailed a broader effort to add touch-screen abilities to Longhorn-era laptops. Mitchell demonstrated the way that finger-based input could be added to traditional laptops as well as to Tablet PC machines that allow for stylus input.

Inspired by the clamshell
Yet another Longhorn feature was, in fact, inspired by the cell phone. For years, clamshell-style phones have had a second, smaller screen on the outside so basic information, such as a clock and caller ID, can be viewed without opening the phone. Microsoft, along with Intel, has been working to translate the same capability to the laptop.

special coverage
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"Black boxes" for Windows, Longhorn for laptops, 64-bit software--and more. Click here for stories from WinHEC.

With Longhorn, Microsoft is adding support for such devices, although the approach is somewhat inelegant. Either the PC will be off, and the calendar or e-mail information on the secondary display risks being out of date, or, when accessing functions such as playing music, the laptop will be fully turned on. Down the road, Mitchell hopes to do the engineering work so information can remain updated with only needed parts of the computer being powered up. The company also hopes laptops will someday even be able to use a nearby watch or cell phone as an additional display.

On the responsiveness side, Microsoft is inching toward its goal of replicating the "instant-on" experience customers have become used to with consumer electronics. When a laptop user pushes the power button in Windows XP, it goes into a near-shutdown "hibernate" state in which all information is saved onto the hard drive. With Longhorn, the default will be to keep

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Bill is delusional...
Take a look at iPod sales to see why people aren't buying laptops like they are cell phones. The iPod mini is drastically less expensive then its bit brothers and they are flying off the shelf...Take that and times it by 2x for the shuffle.
Cell phones are drastically cheaper then a laptop. A new midrange laptop will set you back about $1500-$2000. A high end cell will set you back around $500 at most.
Also there is the price performance ratio which isnt the same as a desktop and quite frankly is a closed platform. Its gotten better but upgrades are at the whim of the OEM. Some offer ZIF sockets for the CPUs in laptops. Some have their CPU soldered in. Some offer the ability to upgrade your GPU and never do it. While the rest have the GPU built into the mainboard. Hard drive generally can be upgraded across the board as can RAM but that is it. Then there is expansion, a joke at best.
Tell me why would anyone buy a laptop right now that won't run Longshot's eye candy? Most laptops still ship with 16 or 32MB of VRAM. At least a desktop purchased right now can have the video card upgraded to meet Longshot's specs. Can you say the same of the laptop?
The best thing the industry could do right now is standardize on laptops core components. Have a couple of dedicated miniPCI slots accessible from the back. Have a GPU that can be upgraded. Have across the board ZIF socket support for a CPU. Until that happens. Until I can walk into Microcenter or Best Buy and pick up a GPU upgrade laptops will remain a proprietary platform which forces user's to upgrade every couple years simply to get a new system component.
And don't give me crap that they have to make it proprietary to make it small. Maybe in the case of Sony's 505 (Or whatever that super slim laptop is called. But I've disassembled enough laptops to see that standardized components are possible. Its just the simply fact that OEMs have no incentive to create upgrade paths. Hmmm have a user buy a brand new device or upgrade just a component. Wonder what will make us more $$$$.
Bill's points are marketing pure and simple but as the old saying goes. Microsoft is a marketing company that just happens to make software. Too true. Too true.
Posted by Jonathan (832 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Down the road, Mitchell hopes...
...to do the engineering! Lol, how typical, I've been wishing for years that SOMEONE at M$ would finally bite the bullet and 'do the engineering'.
Posted by Michael Grogan (308 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Microsoft & Creativity
Does anyone else get the feeling that when
Microsoft tries to get creative that they often
come up with something that is silly, wacky,
and impractical? Take the idea of a second,
smaller screen on a laptop for example. I can
understand why cell phone makers may add a
second screen on the outside of a cell phone.
The cell phone is a small, handy accessory,
and it doesn't cost much to add an additional
screen to show more information. But do we
really need a second, smaller screen on a
laptop? I can't imagine making much use of it,
especially if it doesn't update itself when the
laptop is off. This just doesn't seem to be an
idea that Microsoft has carefully thought about.
I get the sense that Microsoft just looked at
cell phones and thought: "Oh, we can do that,
too!", without thinking about whether it would
be a useful or worthwhile addition to a laptop.
Posted by (26 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Can you think of anything That M$...
...has carefully thought about; aside from marketing schemes of course!
Posted by Michael Grogan (308 comments )
Link Flag
Yea what good is the second screen, except
as a way to drain more juice...maybe m$ would do mor e good in getting nuclear powered batteries that rca made into a laptop so the average battery life is 20 years :P

Another thing...what on earth could be so important to put on that second screen!...NOTHING! NOTHING!!!!

Why not just make make virtual reality things and forgoe the screen...zzz
Posted by FocusedWolf (24 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Don't discount a design idea that's been talked about for a couple of years
> ...as a way to drain more juice...maybe m$
> would do mor e good in getting nuclear powered
> batteries that rca made into a laptop so the
> average battery life is 20 years :P

* Remember that if Longhorn comes out in fall 2006, it probably won't have serious uptake until at least fall 2008. Currently in Japan some of the electronics firms are using OLED displays for cell phones. Since OLEDs emit their own light (Don't need to be backlit), there is a phenominal amount of power savings, enough to justify a small screen on the lid of a laptop. In fact, if OLED display resolutions improve, I wouldn't be surprised to see them take off as a replacement for LCDs in laptops. OLEDs are cheaper to produce, cheaper to integrate into a low-power system, and weigh a fraction of LCDs.

> Another thing...what on earth could be
> so important to put on that second
> screen!...NOTHING! NOTHING!!!!

* Personally, I'd love to have my WinAmp or Media Player interface with it, possibly with a series of buttons under it to allow me to do simple tasks in those programs. Heck, what about your email? It could notify you of any new emails if you have the lid closed. Imagine if you could see what wireless network you are attached to before you even opened the lid. If it's a company laptop, and someone's locked the screen, you could see who's logged in. You could set it up to display current time/date when there is no other information to pass on. What if it was a touch screen, like a minature tablet? You could use your signature to unlock your desktop on the laptop. There are numerous tasks and information that you could retrieve or perform if you have a small screen and maybe 5 buttons on the lid. The key is to think of a use for this piece. I'm not a huge fan of Microsoft, but this looks like a no-brainer to me... If I can manipulate my Motorola cell phone better with a secondary screen and quick buttons on the side, why limit that model to the cell phone? I'm sure it could work anyplace where you could place it and provide a good interface for it.
Posted by (2 comments )
Link Flag
Does the expression 'in a five pound bag."
What's Longhorn's RAM foot print? 256MB?

What's your cell phone's RAM capacity?

Right... Its old "ten pounds of sh*t in a five pound bag" time again. W

hy not try to run Longhorn on a 286 while you're at it?
Posted by CharlesRovira (97 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Longhorn will improve laptops...
The stratospheric (for a contemporary laptop)
hardware requirements will force laptop vendors
to cut margins even thinner, boost performance,
and focus on improving video and RAM bandwidth.

If you use a trimmer OS on the same generation
of laptop, the performance should be astounding
(expecially compared to Longhorn).
Posted by Gleeplewinky (289 comments )
Reply Link Flag
How can a self proclaimed "end-all-cure-all-whiz-bang-solve-all-the-problems-in-the-world" Shorthorn OS that MAYBE will be out in 2,3,4 years
with all the "beta-bugs" worked out & Service Pack Updates installed possibly influence the design of laptops?

Considering all the "cool innovations" (MS Oxymoron) are being gutted from the dead cow OS inorder to MAYBE meet the virtual deadline from Redmond, just maybe, it will fit into the 5" thick 20 pound POC plastic 64-bit WintelDell turbo fan screaming Bricktop that could possibly run this piece of bloatware/vaporware/dreamware from Citizen Gates.

Longhorn...in your dreams Bill.
Posted by Llib Setag (951 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It does...
...and I have it.

Besides, your jokes about the thick laptop seem more aimed at Apple. You can get a Pentium 4 (even a Pentium EE)and an AMD 64 in a laptop but where is the G5 laptop? Oh gee, it runs so hot it needs liquid cooling in even a tower case so we can't do that.

As for the second screen, there are loads of uses. A few ideas are;

1. Music playback without powering up the full computer.
2. Simple organizer functions (memo, calender) that are synced on startup.
3. Accurate battery state display.

If this was integrated into BIOS it could even be used to have the computer turn on when needed using more intelligence than the current opions.
Posted by Andrew J Glina (1673 comments )
Link Flag
Maybe it's the 14 Logo Stickers ...
People are not excited to buy PC laptops that's more advertising than product with more logo stickers than a NASCAR stock car ...

I don't know, the people buying PowerBooks and iBooks seem excited - maybe he should ask all those in Mac division if they're excited ...
Posted by jbelkin (167 comments )
Reply Link Flag

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