Gates Touts 'Mira', 'Freestyle' for Living Rooms

Microsoft's eHome Division is slowly making progress in its quest to merge the PC with home electronics. In his keynote address at CES Monday evening, Bill Gates previewed two new technologies designed to enable the use of a Windows XP PC when not parked in front of it.

A virtual media center code-named "Freestyle" will allow a user to access music, video and photos from across the room via remote control and extra-large user interface. Additionally, a set of technologies dubbed "Mira" will serve as the foundation for detachable displays set to debut later this year.

With recent home computers sporting high-fidelity speaker systems and expensive digital cameras, it is no surprise that the PC has become the focal point of many living rooms. However, PCs lack the level of convenience seen in the television or stereo - surfing content while relaxing on the sofa. Microsoft aims to fill this gap with Freestyle, building on the enhanced digital media capabilities in Windows XP.

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"This is the idea of using a PC without sitting down at a keyboard. Wherever you are, the idea of remote interactivity comes with Windows," Gates said in his keynote.

Freestyle will include capabilities to play DVDs and digital music, and even function as a personal video recorder to watch, record and pause live TV. Such a move may upset SnapStream, which makes PVR software for Windows - and is a close Microsoft partner. Hewlett-Packard, NEC and Samsung have already announced intentions to build hardware around Freestyle.

Taking the concept of remote interactivity even further is Mira, which Microsoft calls "the evolution of the monitor." Built on Windows CE .NET, Mira will lay the groundwork for a new generation of portable wireless touch-screen monitors. Utilizing the Remote Desktop Protocol found in Windows XP, Mira will enable a user to work on a PC from up to 150 feet away.

Unlike the business-oriented Tablet PC, a Mira device will simply function as a portal to the desktop computer. This means the display can be fairly lightweight and inexpensive - a sensible alternative for home users. Mira will support the same handwriting recognition found in Microsoft's Pocket PC and 802.11 for a secure wireless connection.

The first beta release of Mira was recently sent to hardware manufacturers including Intel, ViewSonic, Wyse, and National Semiconductor. ViewSonic was the first to showcase a Mira device at CES, although a final product is a ways off. "We expect to see these devices out there by Christmas 2002," a Microsoft spokesperson told BetaNews.

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