SEATTLE — Hardware and components enhancements to ultra mobile devices will drive what Microsoft Corp. is touting as its new PC per person model, replacing its original vision of a PC for every desk and in every home when Longhorn debuts

at the end of next year.

In order to achieve this goal, however, Microsoft will have to remove barriers to user adoption rates of mobile PCs like form factor, battery life and time to access, said Bill Mitchell, corporate vice-president, Windows networking and device technologies, Microsoft mobile platforms division.

While the number of notebook units shipped worldwide outpaces that of desktop units at 15 per cent growth versus four per cent, only 50 million mobile PCs worldwide were sold last year compared with 700 million mobile phones, said Mitchell, referring to recent Gartner and IDC research.

“”Customers are not getting the value out of mobile PCs that they’re getting out of mobile phones,”” Mitchell told developers Tuesday who were attending a session at this year’s Windows Hardware Engineering conference or WinHEC here. “”(Microsoft) aspires to a PC per person.””

North America, compared with Asia and Europe, is still, for the most part, a desktop culture, said Eddie Chan, research analyst, mobile/personal computing and technology, at IDC Canada Ltd. Whereas the portability ratio or what IDC defines as the percentage of mobile units out of total PC shipments was 50.5 per cent in Japan in Q1 to Q3 2004, Canada was about half that at 27.4 per cent compared to the U.S. at 29.8 per cent.

“”In North America we’re less constrained by space than in Asia and Europe,”” said Chan, adding that size, style and function are top priorities in the latter cultures. “”We like something that’s visable.””

Physical usability of devices such as laptops and, in particular, tablet PCs, is vital to that vision, said Bert Keely, architect, mobile PCs and tablet technology, Microsoft, Wednesday at a track on client usability for the highly mobile market.

“”The fundamental value proposition is that you can keep your whole digital world on hand,”” said Keely, adding that the level of richness, like Web sites visited and calendar and contacts, breeds complexity. “”The challenge is how to remove complexity and make the system as simple as possible. That’s a challenge that no mobile phone has.””

Other roadblocks to making Microsoft’s dream come to fruition include hardware issues such as cost and performance and a lack of applications that enhance the technology’s existing value, added Mitchell, who gave a seminar track to developers attending this year’s Windows Hardware Engineering conference here.

Addressing the first two challenges, Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates Monday gave a sneak peek of an ultra mobile tablet PC that weighs under 2 lbs. and has all-day battery life. The device, which would also include a camera, phone and touch screen and ink capabilities, would be available sometime in 2007 after the Longhorn client version has been released.

Microsoft started introducing these concepts two years ago at WinHEC, said Keely. “”The challenge is to get a large number of features integrated into one device,”” he said.

To get at machines more easily, Microsoft is working with hardware vendors like Asus on a feature called auxiliary display that allows users to view e-mail and play music using cache memory instead of waking up the machine. BIOS behaviour is also key to cutting the time it takes for a computer to wake up from sleep mode, said Keely.

Longhorn will also have a feature that will enable to display to sync information with a user’s cell phone to view data like e-mail, calendar and directions to a meeting, for example. The auxiliary display feature, however, likely won’t be ready when beta 1 of Longhorn comes out this summer.

Microsoft has listed the above features on a list for developers called Kenesis 21, which contains 21 features that need to be on a mobile PC to optimize Longhorn’s capabilities.

Outside of a checklist, IDC’s Chan said in the real world there are trade offs when it comes to using the technology. “”Power performance and battery life are still barriers to getting an experience that’s user friendly,”” said Chan. “”Mobility is becoming a compelling proposition in the consumer and commercial marketplace.””

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