CES preview: Hail the Web appliance

Expect the usual fancy gadgets and fast chips at next week's Consumer Electronics Show. But Net machines may take center stage.

The trade show that helped launch a million gadgets -- everything from VCRs to CD-ROMs and high-definition TV -- may help create a new star next week: the Internet appliance.

Led by Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Web Companion, the inexpensive machines for connecting to the Net will gather a lot of attention when the Consumer Electronics Show opens its doors.

The MSN Web Companion, based on Microsoft's Windows CE operating system, is designed to allow users to connect to The Microsoft Network service or the Web and to send and retrieve e-mail -- It won't, however, do much else. But it will offer user those basics for little, if any, cost.

Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) is working with a number of companies that will build Web Companion devices. They include Acer Group and Philips Electronic Inc., company officials said. Others may include Compaq Computer Corp., which showed a prototype Web Companion device during Comdex/Fall '99.

Web Companion devices should begin shipping in mid-2000.

Also on the Internet appliance front, Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) will announce new television set-top box designs.

Gadgets, gadgets, everywhere
CES this year will continue its tradition of being a backdrop for the introduction of new consumer technologies and gadgets of all shapes and sizes.

One example: the Kryptic Pilot. The device, manufactured by Applied Biometrics Products Inc. of Burlington, Vt., is a fingerprint-recognition security device for Palm organizers. Measuring 3.25 by 3 by 0.9 inches, the device stores fingerprints in nonvolatile memory, which means they will not be erased by removing the device's batteries. Kryptic Pilot should cost less than $100, with volume pricing as low as $69, the company said.

Cygnion Corp. plans to display a cordless, multi-user phone system for small businesses. Called CyberGenie PC, the device is made to operate with a PC. It was developed by a former Ericsson Inc. subsidiary and will be available in January. Pricing has not been announced.

I-Jam Multimedia will offer a line of MP3 players with up to 64MB of memory for storing voice, data, and MP3 or Windows Media files. Pricing for the players starts at $179.

But CES is not just about gadgets. Mainstream computer and chip companies will be trying to make an impression as well.

Athlon kicks up the power
Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (NYSE: AMD) is expected to announce its 800MHz Athlon processor, with support from at least two major PC makers. AMD will also demonstrate 900MHz versions of the chip, running at room temperature. Two demos will show off a version of the current chip at 900MHz and a version of the chip utilizing copper interconnects, running at 900MHz.

Compaq Computer Corp. (NYSE: CPQ) and IBM will likely have consumer PCs with the new chip at the show as well, sources said.

Other hot CES topics are expected to be broadband, digital radio, HDTV, home networking and information appliances, according to show organizers.

Intel will host a number of product demonstrations, including a demo of a digital camera for children and in-car computers. For the latter, the company will show off of two auto computers, including one from Clarion and another from Ford Motor Co.'s Visteon division. They are both based on Microsoft's AutoPC, running on Intel processors. Clarion offers its AutoPC for $1,299.

Also on tap from Intel: demonstrations of home networking and digital subscriber line (DSL) technologies.

Windows CE slims down
When it comes to Windows CE handhelds, Microsoft -- behind closed doors -- may show the next-generation Palm-sized PC devices.

But the real meat of the announcement may not come until February's CeBIT trade show in Germany. There, Microsoft will demo a wireless Palm-sized PC being developed by Casio Computer Co. Ltd. and Siemens Communication Devices, a division of Siemens Information and Communication Products. This machine will combine wireless Internet connectivity with mobile phone features running the latest version of the Palm-sized PC software, code-named Rapier.

The device will offer the traditional capabilities associated with a Palm-sized PC, including digital music capabilities and a color screen, along with wireless e-mail and Internet access, instant messaging, and phone features. The device, which will support GSM and CDMA networks, will be available only in Europe at first.

Palm Computing, the 3Com Corp. division that will soon be spun off, is not expected to have a large presence at the show. The division, however, is expected to debut its first color handheld device, a Palm organizer called Palm IIIc, early next year. The company, according to reports, is also working on a Palm OS-based terminal device for consumers.

Motorola Inc.'s Paging Division will offer a new lower-cost series of paging devices, including a PDA-like model that offers paging, e-mail and Internet connectivity.


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