Microsoft to Push eHome, Soft Wi-Fi, Longhorn at WinHEC Conference

At this week's annual Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in Seattle, Microsoft will push several Windows-related initiatives, including new eHome technologies such as Freestyle and Mira, a new wireless technology that requires Windows clients, and the next version of Windows (code-named Longhorn). I'll provide more information about these interesting developments after WinHEC is under way.

Freestyle is a new digital-media front end for Windows, targeted to a new generation of home PCs that feature remote control interfaces and TV outputs. Freestyle includes an attractive UI, integrates with cable and satellite TV systems and channel guides, and provides digital video recording (DVR) functionality. Mira, which just entered its first public beta, lets a new generation of Windows CE .NET (formerly code-named Talisker)-equipped flat-panel displays wirelessly connect to home PCs, freeing users from the home office. Users can carry Mira displays around the house and interact with their desktop PCs by using a stylus and virtual keyboard. Both Freestyle and Mira will ship with Windows XP Service Pack 1 (SP1) in September.

A new wireless technology code-named Soft Wi-Fi is also in the works, and Microsoft expects to begin a public beta of this technology later this month. Soft Wi-Fi essentially offloads much of the technology behind Wi-Fi (the 802.11b wireless standard) network adapters and makes it part of Windows, letting hardware makers produce devices that are cheaper, albeit devices that interoperate only with Windows. Soft Wi-Fi allegedly will offer zero configuration of wireless networks (a major XP goal that's only partially realized) when users obtain fully compatible hardware.

Finally, Microsoft will publicly reveal Longhorn details for the first time. Longhorn, which will probably ship in late 2003, will include client versions that replace XP and server editions that replace products in the Windows .NET Server family. Microsoft has several goals for the Longhorn release:
   - Trusted, secure PC platforms: Manufacturers should change core PC hardware to ensure security. Longhorn will support smart cards and biometric input devices.
   - PC fundamentals: Microsoft will improve Plug and Play (PnP), start-up, and the system's manageability characteristics.
   - Appliance-like simplicity: Microsoft will advance Longhorn's OnNow performance with "instant on" improvements, predictable power-button behavior, and unified interaction between software and hardware controls. Interestingly, this improvement also includes advancing the "quiet PC" initiative in certain markets. In addition, Microsoft will advance physical-device connections and discovery and authentication through Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) and Microsoft .NET Passport.
   - Primary, integrated communications: Longhorn will improve voice quality for realtime communications and add advances to OS support and hardware integration of digital-video and voice-input capabilities.
   - PC home-entertainment centers: Longhorn will offer improved audio/video (A/V) streaming and encoding by advancing a completely digital audio path and reducing system latencies. These goals also include dramatic usability advances through easy-access connectors, new media support, and graphics support for both 2' and 10' UIs (desktop and Freestyle 2 interfaces, respectively).
   - Preferred mobile device: Longhorn will advance support for "ink as input" by providing support for Tablet PC input capabilities and new device form factors. These goals also work to expand wireless computing's reach through advances related to Wi-Fi, mobile IP version 6 (IPv6), remote network device interface specification (NDIS), UPnP discovery, and .NET authentication. In addition, these initiatives seek to advance scenarios and capabilities for device hot docking and longer battery life.

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