WinHEC: Day One Recap

May 17, 2007

Windows Home Server, PnP-X, UMPCs, and Hybrid hard drives are just some of the technology we checked out during day one of the show.

While we saw the convergence card played yet again during Bill Gates' conference keynote , it's interesting to see what the 15th Windows Hardware Engineering Conference is like now that Vista has shipped.

First of all, instead of taking place in Seattle, this year it's being held in the Los Angeles Convention Center, which feels like overkill for the roughly 3,000 attendees here. The 60k+ attendees of the E3 used to fill this place up, but today it seems like a cavern.

The show focuses on looking forward, with a decent amount of technical sessions for the gearheads at the show. WinHEC has always been about the device developers, and this year's sessions are no exception: "PlaysForSure Network Media Devices and Windows Vista," "Intel's Vision for Virtualization and Benchmarking," "Driver Test Manager: How to use the DTM" - heady stuff.

Some notable technology demonstrated at the keynotes included the Windows Rally technology, which allows users to connect network devices and use them without having to manually install drivers and manually configure each device. Look for Rally-enabled routers, NAS storage units, and CE devices like cameras in the marketplace now. Rally uses an extension to Plug and Play (PnP-X) and Windows Connect Now to make adding new components to your home network simpler; one or two steps as opposed to the 10+ steps required now to connect these devices.

Windows Home Server seems to be the most buzzworthy technology showcased at the event so far. HP announced the MediaSmart Server with Windows Home Server back at CES in January, but we saw it demonstrated live here. This looks to be a great product for the home 'with way too many PCs in it,' since it can back up your PCs and then share the media files all over your network, including to Digital Media Adapters like the Xbox 360 and the HP MediaSmart HDTV. I'll report on more Home Server stuff later this week.

During the keynote, Gates showed off new UMPCs from Fujitsu, Samsung, and HTC. All three run Vista, and all three have thumb-keyboards, like the smartphones HTC is known for. HTC is the name in reference designs for Windows Mobile phones, so there may be something to Bill Gates' newest catch phrase: The Phone is the PC the PC is the Phone. Nope, it's not a new catchphrase from "Heroes," it's Bill Gates talking about Unified Communications on the PC.

Using IM, VoIP, and Office technology, Microsoft wants to make sure you can communicate with your colleagues no matter what. Integrating Outlook, Office Communicator, and Unified Communications-certified phones and devices, your peers will know you're online (IM), in a meeting (Outlook/Exchange), or if you're on the road (Office Communicator). Office Communicator will use Office Communication Server to make sure other people know you are reachable, and leverage PC technology to connect you via voice, IM, and video. It's like IM on steroids, and I can see it replacing the "are they there" questions with "ok, they are there, but in a Web conference or on a phone call."

Samsung was at the show, talking about Hybrid hard drives (shipping now) and Solid State hard drives (SSD) (real soon now). Hybrid hard drives will help keep your laptop running longer on a charge (10 percent), while boosting performance by up to 50 percent. SSDs will keep your laptop running much longer (20 to 30 percent), while improving performance even more: no moving parts means everything happens at electronic speed, instead of being limited by the mechanical parts in a regular hard drive. More compelling on the SSD front is the ability to spread the memory around a laptop or handheld, giving the PC designers flexibility to make smaller and thinner products - think the difference between an iPod mini (hard drive) with an iPod nano (flash/SSD).

The first SSD drives will come in standard 1.8-inch and 2.5-inch form factors for easy upgrades of existing notebooks, but I can see the day we test a killer UMPC or ultraportable notebook with a soldered-on SSD. SSDs will also be better suited to mobile computing since you can't make a flash drive skip by jostling it around, and it can handle extremes in temperature better (car PC here we come!).

Stay tuned for more coverage from the show floor.

By Joel Santo Domingo
Copyright 2007 by Ziff Davis Media, Distributed by United Press International

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