Concept PCs Continue to Shape the Future of Computing

SEATTLE, April 25, 2005 — In the automotive world, concept cars are used to test market receptivity and spur innovations in everything from hydrogen fuel cell technology and software architecture to design features and turbo-charged engines.

The same is true for concept PCs prototypes that have been unveiled by Microsoft at recent Windows Hardware Engineering Conferences (WinHEC). The 2005 WinHec gathering takes place this week, April 25-27, in Seattle.

The “Athens” PC prototype, introduced at WinHEC 2003, and the Windows Home Concept prototype, introduced at WinHEC 2004, both continue to catalyze new relationships and collaborative development projects between Microsoft and hardware companies, content providers and service providers. One result of that synergy is new opportunities for these companies to broaden their product offerings or move into new markets.

What’s Next in Software Support for Communications and Collaboration?

“Athens” was a coalescence of many different capabilities and features that had been developed independently, including next-generation voice, video and text messaging. The significance of the prototype was that it pulled them all together, showing interoperability and integration in ways that had never been seen before. For example, “Athens” showed how an incoming call to a cell phone enabled with Bluetooth wireless technology would be transferred seamlessly to a PC when the user simply pressed an answer button on the keyboard. The PC would use the integrated speakers/microphone to manage the call audio, and the user could take advantage of software integration to get rich information about the caller such as communications history with the caller based on the caller ID.

Microsoft continues to make progress toward the vision demonstrated by “Athens,” not only in the audio advances included in “Longhorn,” codename for the next generation of the Windows operating system, but also through improvements and new capabilities in products like Microsoft Office Communicator 2005 and Microsoft Office Live Communications Server 2005, which shipped in December 2004.

Abundant Opportunities for Manufacturers, Developers

The vision illustrated by “Athens”, a truly collaborative information worker environment, is realized in many of the capabilities included in Communicator. Targeted for release in the next 60 days, Communicator integrates communications capabilities, which include enhanced instant messaging (IM) and presence awareness, integrated telephony, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and real-time elements of conferencing and integrated communications.

System manufacturers can take advantage of the Real Time Communications (RTC) support included in Live Communications Server 2005 to build hardware that enables the following scenarios in Communicator:

Contact search capabilities, allowing users to easily search their corporate global address list (GAL) as well as local address information on their computer, using the new Live Communications Server Address Book Service.

Enhancing rich presence with additional availability data, including next-available-meeting timing and out-of-office information. If a user’s calendar lists a meeting then that user’s presence will display a busy setting. Additionally, if a user’s calendar lists an out-of-office setting then the user’s presence icon will display accordingly

Integration with enterprise telephony systems when an appropriate private branch exchange (PBX) or public switched telephone network (PSTN) gateway is in place, allowing the user to control their enterprise phone directly from their PC to initiate calls and even divert calls to a remote location when they are not at their desk.

Live Communications Server 2005 SP1, which is the targeted platform for Communicator, also presents many opportunities for hardware manufacturers and software developers. The Microsoft Real Time Communications partner ecosystem is particularly rich because the presence information provided by Live Communications Server is so valuable.

Live Communications Server 2005 provides a powerful, scalable, enterprise-grade IM and integrated presence solution. It is built on industry-standard protocols, such as Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), that deliver integrated communications that goes far beyond IM. Corporate telephony systems such as PBX and PSTN, videoconferencing, interactive voice responses, VoIP and other solutions can all integrate with Live Communications Server using these standard protocols. Additional opportunities for partner solutions with Live Communications Server 2005 include the following:

Client access scenarios: Web browser client solutions, Short Messaging Service (SMS) gateway solutions, mobile client solutions.

Security scenarios: Anti-virus and content-checking solutions, compliance and logging solutions, session border control solutions.

Business process scenarios: Alerts solutions.

Systems management scenarios: Load balance solutions, backup/restore solutions, clusters and SAN (Storage Area Network) solutions.

(Partner solutions created with Live Communications Server 2005 can be found at Partner Directory: Microsoft Office Live Communications Server 2003 Solutions.)

Longhorn: A Powerful Platform for Communications, Collaboration

Exceptional audio and video capabilities planned in Windows Longhorn will present rich opportunities for developers. Both “Athens” and the Windows Home Concept placed strong emphasis on communications technologies and hardware. The communications-technology support in Windows Longhorn includes:

  • Microphone Array processing technology which enables quality voice communication, voice recognition and voice command experiences where users don’t have to be tethered to their PC. (For more information, see the white paper, Microphone Array Support in Windows Longhorn)

  • Glitch-free audio features running on UAA-compliant hardware, creating a high-quality experience of media playback and recording.

  • A Windows-friendly audio subsystem that can support multiple audio-based tasks at one time.

  • An open Bluetooth stack that enables hardware manufacturers and software developers to create solutions such as Bluetooth-enabled handsets and headsets.

Concept PC Scenarios Realized With Windows XP Media Center Edition

The Windows Home Concept showcased how a PC running Windows Media Center Edition can enable new entertainment and Web services opportunities for the industry. Many content and service providers are also integrating with home entertainment and home electronics solutions enabled by Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, which allows people to get the most out of digital entertainment — photos, music, television, movies and games — in a simple, connected way in any room in the home or on the go.

New Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 content and service partners include Yahoo, Discovery Channel, Fox Sports Interactive, XM Radio and TitanTV. Meanwhile, Logitech, Niveus and Philips have developed new universal remote controls that allow operation of Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005- based computers with other home electronics.

In another development, the Boca Raton, Fla.-based Imaging Science Foundation (ISF), which establishes new standards and methodologies for the video and home theater industry, is now certifying PCs running Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005. Additionally, a number of system manufacturers have announced plans to ship new ISF-approved PCs and components in 2005 — among them Alienware, HP, Niveus, Stack9 and Ricavision, as well as graphics card vendors ATI and Nvidia.

Finally, TiVo Inc. joined forces with Microsoft in January 2005 in a deal that will let some TiVo subscribers transfer recorded television from their TiVo boxes to a PC running Windows XP. The subscribers can also easily transfer and play back programs on Windows Mobile-based devices, including Portable Media Centers, Pocket PCs and Smartphones.

The Future of PC System Design Is in Industry Collaboration

As the premier event for computer industry hardware manufacturers to learn about new trends in software and hardware, WinHEC brings the Windows hardware community together each year to explore the future for the Windows platform and align around a common vision for the hardware industry.

Clearly, much of that alignment appears to be taking place around the visions represented by concepts such as the “Athens” PC and Windows Home Concept. And more such alignment seems to be on the horizon.

Microsoft recently launched a global campaign — dubbed “Start Something” – designed to inspire people to discover the passions that can be explored with Windows XP, opening a window to a new world of software, partners and devices.

“Incredible progress is possible when hardware and software companies collaborate and bring exciting new functionality to customers,” says Tom Phillips, general manager of the Windows Hardware Experience Group at Microsoft. “The ‘Athens’ PC and Windows Home Concept prototypes sparked new ways of thinking about enterprise communications and home entertainment scenarios. Today, we see the advances in hardware and software that moved the prototypes of 2002 into shipping products for 2005. A great example is the communications-equipped PC systems that are available today, which can leverage the real-time communications in the Microsoft Live Communications Server software and delivers ‘Athens’ functionality for 2005 customer deployments.”

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