Microsoft to promote tablet PC at Comdex

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates will reportedly show off a Transmeta-based PC tablet running Windows this Sunday during his keynote address at Fall Comdex in Las Vegas, officially unveiling a project the company hopes to see released in the coming years. Gates often uses Comdex as a springboard for Microsoft's visionary product plans: Two years ago, the company unveiled its ClearType display technology, which has only recently been used in shipping products. But the Tablet PC is notable for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its reliance on a non-Intel microprocessor. Instead, the Tablet PC will run on Transmeta's Crusoe chip, which compromises some performance for extended battery life.

Microsoft first showed off its Tablet PC prototype at the June .NET strategy briefing in Redmond, but Gates' demo at Comdex is expected to be more wide reaching. The Tablet PC currently runs a wireless-enabled version of Windows 2000, though sources say that the company will switch to Whistler early next year. But don't expect a Tablet PC any time soon: Microsoft Research, which developed early versions of the devices, says that it's unlikely to see the light of day until 2003 at the earliest. In the meantime, Microsoft will work to ensure that its latest hardware innovation doesn't suffer the same fate as the Apple Newton or Windows CE, two handheld designs that never really caught on with consumers.

And though Microsoft could easily switch from Transmeta to AMD or Intel at any time, the current choice is a good omen for tiny Transmeta, which recently received bad news from Compaq and IBM, both of which declined to use the Crusoe chips in their upcoming products. IBM was showing off a Transmeta-based ThinkPad as recently as PC Expo in June, but the company has reportedly had problems getting the chip to meet its stated battery life claims. The performance of Transmeta's chips is also in question: Various reports say that both Compaq and IBM were disappointed with the speed of the devices

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