The PC needs improvement, Microsoft exec says
IDG News Service - In a presentation that would have been familiar to any user who has grumbled about his Windows-based computer, a Microsoft Corp. executive this week called on Taiwanese hardware manufacturers to help address a long list of PC shortcomings, saying improvements to both desktop and laptop computers are needed to increase consumer demand.
In particular, the goal should be to eliminate much of the complexity associated with PCs and make them as easy to use as common consumer electronics devices, said Tom Phillips, general manager of the software company's Windows Experience Group. Phillips spoke at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference in Taipei.
"Take the VCR as an example," he said. "There is no service pack. There is no updating of firmware that is going to be necessary to keep this device working and working well within my environment. Those are the kind of things that I think are absolutely mandatory if we're going to address this market and get the kind of customer products that bring the increased levels of satisfaction that will drive a much higher demand level."
Despite the issues that must be overcome to achieve better usability, most of the improvements being considered by Microsoft engineers are evolutionary in nature, rather than revolutionary, Phillips said. And most can be applied using the Windows XP operating system, he said.
Microsoft engineers, for example, have developed a prototype system that can make setting up a PC easier by partially eliminating the need for users to worry about how and where external devices are connected to it.
Phillips demonstrated a Windows XP-based PC that incorporates this prototype technology and is able to automatically determine what analog devices are plugged into which ports on the computer, instead of requiring a user to connect each device to a specific port. By detecting differences in the impedance characteristics -- the electrical resistance to a direct current -- of different analog devices, the PC was able to identify a microphone and then a set of speakers when each was plugged in to the same jack on the machine.
Extending the benefits of this technology beyond setting up a PC, computers could be designed so that if a microphone and speakers were connected, the operating system would automatically activate voice-chat features in an instant-message application, for example, Phillips said.
Another example is battery life. Instead of laptop computers that measure battery life in hours, Phillips hopes to see batteries that will offer enough power to last for several days. Microsoft would also like to see laptops that run cooler than existing models and
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