Q&A: Beyond the Desktop — Extending the PC for a Connected Lifestyle at Home

REDMOND, Wash., Jan 7, 2002 — What if you could listen to an Internet radio station or an album you just downloaded from an online music store on your home stereo? What if the lights in your living room dimmed when your DVD player began playing a movie? What if you could remotely check who is at your front door and welcome them to your dinner party while finishing up last-minute tasks in the kitchen?

With the formation of its Windows eHome Division, Microsoft expects to turn these types of “what if”‘ questions into “you can”‘ answers. This new division is at the forefront of the connected home and is working to bring these capabilities from the technological elite to the everyday consumer. Using the power of software on the PC, the new group is working to help transform average households into next-generation digital homes.

To achieve its vision, the Windows eHome Division is developing new technologies, teaming with leading consumer PC manufacturers and partnering with other Microsoft groups to extend the PC’s capabilities to deliver entertainment, communications, information and control experiences to people anywhere in their home. The goal is to make these new technologies simple to use, so that everyone in the family is empowered to enjoy the benefits of a connected home.

Today, the PC is a center of productivity in most homes; people use it mostly to communicate with friends and family, track their finances and browse the Internet. But more and more people are discovering that the PC can also become an entertainment center for listening to music, watching home videos and playing games.

But recent Microsoft research shows that consumers want their home electronics to do more than just these traditional tasks. With that in mind, the Windows eHome division today announced an important step in the group’s vision at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. In his keynote address, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates previewed a new set of technologies for Windows XP, code-named “Freestyle.” “Freestyle” will include a new user interface and remote control that will enable people to access their favorite digital media content on their Windows XP PC from anywhere in the room.

In a conversation with PressPass, Mike Toutonghi, vice president of the Windows eHome Division, Microsoft distinguished engineer and self-confessed digital home enthusiast, talks about the division’s goals, “Freestyle,” and how his personal passion helps fuel the group’s vision.

PressPass: What is the Windows eHome Division and how is it different from other groups at Microsoft?

Toutonghi: The Windows eHome Division was created to extend the PC’s capabilities to deliver personalized, connected experiences that are simple and relevant to everyday consumers anywhere in their home. We are specifically targeting the entertainment, communications, information and convenience experiences. We have a vision to help build the technical foundation that will make people’s daily environment friendlier, more enjoyable and more convenient. It boils down to enhancing people’s lives by harnessing the power of the Windows PC and making that power and wonderful array of content accessible anywhere in the home.

Our group has a unique focus. For example, other groups at Microsoft are building the physical connections between PCs, smart devices and home appliances, and they’re doing great work. What we’re focused on is not the ‘how’ but the ‘why’ part of the connected home question. Windows eHome will help people understand the benefits of using computers in richer ways than they’re doing today.

PressPass: Tell us about “Freestyle” and what people will be able to do with it.

Toutonghi: With “Freestyle,” you won’t need to be at your desk to enjoy your PC’s digital media content. With a new easy-to-navigate user interface (UI) and a simple remote control, you’ll be able to access and enjoy music, movies, videos and photos from anywhere in the room. For example, you’ll be able to easily find and play your favorite music from across the room in a variety of formats like CDs, Windows Media Audio and MP3. You’ll be able to browse music cover artwork from your PC’s music collection, share family photos with automatic slideshows that combine music and photos, watch DVDs with the great quality digital video and audio, and enjoy a new generation of Internet-delivered music and video services.

“Freestyle” will also offer people a new television experience on their PC. They’ll be able to easily search for TV shows with a built-in electronic programming guide and use the personal video recorder (PVR) capabilities to watch, pause and record live TV. Plus, consumers will have the full benefits of a Windows XP PC.

We think digital media enthusiasts and folks who already use their PC in their main living area like teenagers, college students and small apartment dwellers will find “Freestyle” especially useful. Stay tuned for more details later this year.

PressPass: That seems like a good business opportunity for the industry. What Microsoft is doing in terms of partnerships?

Toutonghi: We’re teaming closely with industry leaders and consumer PC manufacturers so consumers will have the full “Freestyle” software/hardware experience. The first of these include Hewlett Packard, NEC and Samsung. We announced our partnership with Samsung in October and are thrilled to also join with HP and NEC to optimize PCs for the best “Freestyle” experience.

PressPass: Is it true that some of this inspiration for the Windows eHome Division and “Freestyle” comes from your personal experiences and interests?

Toutonghi: My family has two homes in different cities. I wanted to automate both homes and connect them through the Internet so I could do things such as hearing the doorbell ring at one house while I’m at the other house. I also wanted to simplify consumer electronics — the stereo and audio and video experiences, for starters — so my family could better enjoy music and movies. I don’t know about you, but I have family members who have a hard time using everything together. They feel it’s just way too complex, and justifiably so.

In a nutshell, the process of implementing those things was challenging. It made me realize that Microsoft and a Windows-based PC could help make it better. The epiphany I had, standing in my house, was one catalyst for the Windows eHome mission. And that personal experience is a daily guide for how we need to deliver on Microsoft’s “anywhere in the home” vision.

PressPass: What challenges do you face with this “anywhere in the home” vision and how do you plan to overcome them?

Toutonghi: Our research indicates that consumers are ready to use the PC in new ways, and beginning with “Freestyle,” we will gradually introduce consumers to a more remote and relaxed way of using their computer, from anywhere in the room to anywhere in the home. Today, most people think of their TV only for video, and their stereo only for music. Similarly, some still think the PC is just for spreadsheets and word processing.

But despite these attitudes and the current complexity of connecting devices, a growing number of people are looking for the conveniences of a connected lifestyle. There already are about 5 million networked homes in the United States. People want multiple PCs to work together, and are doing that now with Windows XP networking features. They want to integrate their PC and music appliances so they can listen to MSN Music or other online music and audio anywhere in their home. They’d like to have an easy way to watch the family videos they’ve edited on their PC in a more relaxed and social environment, like on a TV.

While some people can create the physical connections to enable this right now, it is still too hard for the average consumer to use these things together. I know from personal experience. That’s why Windows eHome is driven to improve the experience for people and create relevant, personalized, connected experiences all easily driven by the power of a Windows PC. Through great software and our hardware partnerships, Windows eHome will extend the PC’s functionality and help people unlock the door to a connected lifestyle at home.

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