CEBIT: Manufacturers watch Microsoft's Mira move

Microsoft has launched its Mira technology in the hope of kick-starting the handheld Internet appliance market.

Microsoft has launched its Mira technology in the hope of kick-starting the handheld Internet appliance market.

Mira devices are detachable wireless monitors that can be used up to 100m from a PC, letting users work in any room around the house. At the CEBIT trade show Microsoft announced four new partners that will make display devices based on the Mira design. Royal Philips Electronics and LG Electronics are both building devices while TriGem Computer of Korea and Tatung of Taiwan will develop designs for other companies to manufacture, Microsoft said.

Mira devices use 802.11b wireless technology and the remote desktop protocol (RDP) software built into both Windows XP and CE to communicate. They have rechargeable batteries that will last for four to six hours before having to be recharged in the monitor's cradle, said Todd Warren, general manager of Microsoft's embedded and appliance platform group.

Mira monitors are, principally, aimed at the consumer market, said Warren.

"Where the tablet PC is the evolution of the laptop, Mira devices are the evolution of the monitor," he said.

Microsoft promotional videos show the devices being used around a home, to view weather forecasts, check e-mail and read the news in the bathroom. Warren acknowledges that they are likely to get lost and says manufacturers have been considering possible ways of tracking the products from the main PC, such as making them beep until found.

Philips has produced prototype 10.4in and 15in monitors, plus a wireless keyboard to work with the latter. Tatung has developed a rugged, waterproof version, presumably for use in the bathroom or garden.

Warren also suggested that flat-screen TVs could include Mira technology and act as monitors when needed.

Mira monitors will not be able to show movies or television because they do not have enough CPU power for streaming video, but there are plans to include that capability in later versions, Warren said.

National Semiconductor's president and chief executive officer Brian Halla described the Mira as being like a Web pad or Internet appliance, "a thin client for the home using a PC as a server".

Several of the prototype Mira monitors contain National Semiconductor's Geode processors, including the Tatung product and another from Wyse Technology.

Halla says he hopes the Microsoft push will also provide a "valuable nudge" to the market for thin client terminals, which has been slow to take off.

"There is a tremendous amount of interest in Mira from all the [hardware makers] we work with," Halla said. "Almost everyone [in the industry] is waiting to see what happens," he said.

However, so far manufacturers have gone no further than the prototype stage because "it is very expensive to be the lead runner on it [and its success] depends on how much weight Microsoft puts behind it," he said.

The Mira presence at CEBIT would suggest that Microsoft intends to put serious weight into promoting the technology. Other partners already announced include National Semiconductor, Fujitsu, Intel, NEC, Matsushita Electronic, Sotec, ViewSonic and Wyse Technology.

The low price of LCDs and the proliferation of wireless will help boost the Mira technology, said Don Macleod, National Semiconductor chief operating officer. Microsoft has been pushing the manufacturing base in Asia to take it on, he says.

Perhaps, says Halla, the less successful Internet appliances we have seen were necessary to try the concept and the market will now be ready.

Microsoft expects Mira monitors to be available by Christmas 2002 at around $400 (£281), Warren said.

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