Features

Rooms with Windows

National | Microsoft tries to bring PCs out of the den, Apple loses the pastels, and Moxi speeds up digital convergence

Issue: "Roe vs. Wade at 29," Jan. 19, 2002

Windows to the world
Microsoft wants Americans to have Windows in their living rooms. Chairman Bill Gates plans to launch two new products intended to make the PC more functional in everyday life. They are intended to make Windows more useful for home entertainment. The most important new release is code-named Mira. This technology powers small handheld tablets that function like a cross between a handheld computer and a TV remote. Instead of just sitting at a desk or the kitchen table, users can go anywhere in the house and play games, check e-mail, or do spreadsheets on a portable device that interacts with PCs. Mira is also supposed to work with Microsoft's Xbox gaming system and new flat-screen TVs. Working alongside Mira is new software called Freestyle that would allow people to use a remote control on their PCs for playing movies, slide shows, and music files. It lets users operate their computers like a VCR or stereo without having to sit at a keyboard. Technologies like this help resolve a psychological impasse: Home users tend to place their PCs in dens, bedrooms, and kitchens instead of the living room. This makes watching video or listening to music on computer less comfortable. Simple tasks like checking the weather or sports scores can be a bit of a chore. Now that wireless technology is becoming mainstream, developments like Mira and Freestyle help cross the barrier and let the computer become a bigger part of a person's home entertainment setup. They also help Microsoft face its historic challenge of making the PC easier to use for the average consumer. Big Mac attack
Is it a computer or a desk lamp? Apple's new iMac has dropped the familiar pastel-colored egg design for a whole new look. These 2002 models feature a 15-inch flat-screen monitor that connects with a swivel bar to a white base containing the components. Apple CEO Steve Jobs showed off the new invention at the Macworld Expo trade show, as the computer industry continues to look for a path out of economic doldrums. The last generation of iMacs sold 6 million units in three years, and many hope the new look, new screen, and faster processor will attract customers ready for the update. The high-end model hits stores this month. For a whopping $1,799, buyers will receive an 800 MHz G4 processor, 256 megabytes of memory, a 60 gigabyte hard drive and a so-called "SuperDrive" that can write and record CDs and DVDs. Apple plans to release two less-powerful models for $1,299 and $1,499 in February and March. Apple's future plans center on what Mr. Jobs calls the "digital hub" strategy, which envisions the Mac as a home base for MP3 players, handhelds, cameras, and whatever else can use a USB connection. Regardless of whether the new iMacs succeed, this launch likely marks the end of the traditional computer monitor, as the flat screen is now standard equipment on new computers. "The CRT (cathode ray tube, like those used in standard TVs) display is now officially dead," Mr. Jobs proclaimed. A lot of Moxi
Remember "digital convergence?" This late-'90s buzzword referred to a future in which all the audio, video, and computer data in a house are interconnected. A new device called the Moxi Media Center may bring this concept closer to reality. This device is a big hard drive that can record and send signals to several TVs, stereos, or computers throughout a home. It allows people to use e-mail, instant messaging, music, or TV programs in various parts of the house. The same device can send different programs into different rooms. It works like a typical home computer network, using either a wireless or wired connections. Moxi Digital, a company founded by WebTV entrepreneur Steve Perlman, developed the Moxi secretly for two years. The venture plans to license the invention to cable and satellite providers who will put the technology in their next generation boxes. The Moxi is still on the expensive side: $425 for a single TV and $250 for an additional set, but it shows where technology is headed. So far, interactive TV and digital recorders have had great fanfare but lackluster sales. One problem is that digital convergence-style devices are confusing to novices, not to mention expensive. "The world isn't really ready for this," Josh Bernoff, an analyst with Forrester Research, said about the Moxi. "But in 2002, we'll see the world getting itself ready for this kind of product."

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