March 10, 2006 12:53 PM PST
This week in Microsoft
In a preview demonstration, Intel showed CNET News.com several of the ultramobile PC devices, including an example of the kind of hardware that will ship in the next few weeks as part of the Microsoft effort.
The first devices have a 7-inch touch screen and standard x86 processors and can run full versions of desktop operating systems, including the Windows XP variant being used for Origami. In later generations, due for release probably next year or later, the devices could have the pocket-size dimensions, all-day battery life and $500 price Microsoft and Intel are aiming for.
The first-generation devices are likely to get about three hours of battery life.
Whatever the merits of these devices, reality still trails Microsoft's ambitions. The first-generation devices are bigger, pricier and more power-hungry than the software maker had hoped. Microsoft acknowledged that instead of being a mass-market hit riding a wave of prelaunch hype, these devices are likely to appeal only to the most hard-core gadget fans.
"This is definitely our first step in looking at the area of ultramobile PCs," said Mika Krammer, a Windows marketing director for Microsoft's mobile platforms. "To really hit the mass market...in the hundreds of thousands and the millions of customers, we have to improve," Krammer said. The devices that begin shipping in April are likely to be more of a niche product, he said.
Many CNET News.com readers were left unimpressed with the announcement, and some even questioned seemingly conflicting strategies.
"It would seem to me to be bad timing to 'launch' these things in the shadow of Windows Vista," wrote Frank McNulty in News.com's TalkBack Forum. "For a new hyped product not to be able to run Vista, which is not that far away, would have negative influence on the "geek" and first adopter buyer."
Microsoft expects greater mass appeal to figure in the release of its next operating system. Aiming to re-create the excitement that accompanied the launch of Windows 95, the software giant is gearing up for a massive campaign to launch Windows Vista.
Chairman Bill Gates has tasked the Windows marketing team with repeating its achievements with the launch a decade ago, a challenge that will require convincing scores of people to line up at retail stores to purchase the operating system. The marketing budget won't be finalized until the end of Microsoft's fiscal year in June, but "regardless of that, we're still being held to that goal," said Dave Block, a senior product manager for Vista.
One of Microsoft's chief goals is to spur businesses and consumers into buying higher-end versions of Vista. Microsoft announced last week that there would be six major versions of Vista, including a new "ultimate" edition of the OS that will combine the best of the company's corporate and home features.
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