Microsoft unveils latest Mira prototypes

Microsoft Corp. has taken the wraps off the latest prototypes of Mira mobile monitors at the Computex Taipei exhibition, which opened here Monday.

Announced first in January this year, Mira technology allows users to access their Windows XP desktop remotely from a detachable monitor.

The company showed prototypes from four local electronics manufacturers, Tatung Co., Winstron Corp., First International Computer Corp. (FIC) and AboCom Systems Inc., but unlike at recent major international electronics exhibitions, Microsoft is not making any new partner announcements.

The company confirmed it still hopes to launch Mira-enabled devices at the end of this year.

"We are pretty close to where partners need to be in order for an end-2002 launch," said Aubrey Edwards, director of Microsoft's embedded and appliance platforms group, explaining time is short for companies to join Microsoft in the Mira project if they want to meet the schedule for the first version launch.

A wireless LAN link between the Mira monitor and the desktop PC keeps the connection alive; the processor in the monitor does the display processing, with all the application software running on the processor on the desktop PC. This means the full power of the desktop machine is available around the home and users also have access to their files and data stored on the machine.

Mira requires the remote desktop technology that ships in Windows XP Professional edition, and will not work with the Windows XP Home edition.

Edwards said users would have to upgrade to the more expensive version of Windows XP if they are to use Mira and said the company is looking at ways to make that upgrade as easy as possible for consumers.

He also said the company is still looking at a price range of between US$500 and $1,000 for first-generation Mira hardware.

In recent months, Microsoft has been working with a number of beta testers and has carried out intensive user research with six families to get a better idea of how people are likely to use Mira and to discover their likes and dislikes of the current system.

Top of the users' wish list was concurrent login, allowing simultaneous use of the desktop PC through a standard monitor and the remote Mira. At present, the main desktop computer cannot be used directly if the Mira device is in use. Users also want the ability to run richer multimedia, such as viewing a DVD remotely. These functions are unlikely to make it into Mira software scheduled to ship at the end of this year however are being considered for future versions, said Edwards.

In addition to the Taiwanese companies exhibiting here, Microsoft has already received support from several other computer hardware makers. At the time of its announcement, display maker ViewSonic Corp. said it intends to produce a Mira-enabled monitor while Intel Corp., National Semiconductor Corp. and Wyse Technology Inc. all committed to making Mira reference designs. Other companies that have said they will develop Mira enabled displays include Fujitsu Ltd., NEC Corp., Toshiba Corp., South Korea's LG Electronics Inc. and TriGem Computer Inc., and Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV of the Netherlands. Japan's Sotec Co. Ltd. and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. have also signed up, although only to make Mira-enabled personal computers.

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