A new generation of Web devices were given their first airing in front of the Comdex crowds as hardware vendors put substance behind Microsoft chief executive Bill Gates' latest vision.
In his keynote to Comdex on Sunday night, Gates outlined his view of the Internet future, something he called the 'Personal Web'. Part of this vision included the 'Web Companion', a low cost Internet access device that resembles a simplified laptop.
"These devices will be simplified enough for [non technical] people to use but still give you a rich online experience," said Gates.
He said the devices, based on Microsoft's Windows CE operating system, would have 'instant-on' capability and use MSN to link to the Internet and access services.
First prototypes, a range of which Gates displayed on stage, are expected to appear by the end of this year, with widespread availability likely by the second half of next year. Gates said Microsoft had been working with Compaq for more than a year on a design for this type of device.
Other manufacturers already committed to making Web Companions include Acer, Phillips Electronics, Thomson Multimedia and Vestel.
Acer announced the I-Station, which includes many of the basic Internet commands such as email, home and back on the keyboard. It also has an LED light that flashes when a user receives mail and includes a built-in 56Kbps modem. In line with the whole Web Companion concept, the I-Station does require any configuring, advanced knowledge of Windows CE or connection to an ISP. THe company claims it simply plugs in and connects to the Web.
"I-Station makes accessing the Internet as easy as picking up the paper, making dinner in the microwave or checking your voice mail," said Simon Lin, chief executive of Acer. I-Station is due to launch in the second quarter of next year.
Vestel announced Internet.Terminal, a Web Companion available in three formats - a flat panel LCD, a 15-inch monitor or a wireless Internet pad. It uses Windows CE and MSN to provide instant-on Internet access. Vestel is the US subsidiary of European TV and monitor manufacturer Vestel Electronics.
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