New-look PCs coming this autumn (part 2)

Part 1

Mattel's products may sound like kids stuff, but they feature Intel's small Flex ATX motherboard -- developed for use in Easy PCs -- and Universal Serial Bus technology for connecting peripherals packed into small, brightly coloured chassis. They also lack "legacy hardware," such as ISA slots, serial ports and parallel ports, and are instead bundled with a USB keyboard and Mouse.

"I wouldn't call these the ultimate easy-to-use PCs," said Whalley, but he indicated that they're a step in the direction in which Easy PC is headed. "This time next year, back to school and holiday 2000, we'll see more significant improvements in ease of use," he said.

Intel is expected to continue to push the development of Easy PCs by announcing the availability of the Easier to Use Hardware Implementation Guide 2000 version 1.0 at its Developers Forum at the end of the month. The guide, for PC makers, details the removing of legacy hardware and implementing Instantly Available PC Technology, which will allow PCs to go into a sleep mode, instead of being shut down completely.

A new set of PC design guidelines, called PC 2001, will also include guidelines for building easy-to-use PCs, Whalley said. PC 2001, expected to be finalised in the first half of next year, will help original equipment manufacturers specify form factors, thermal designs and other issues, such as the number of USB ports to build into each PC. It, too, will be announced at the Developers Forum.

Many improvements will come through operating system software. Microsoft Corp. is in early beta testing stages of the next version of its Consumer Windows operating system. Code-named Millennium, the OS is expected to add a host of new ease-of-use features.

Intel is also developing methods to measure ease of use in PCs. The tests would help OEMs improve their designs by measuring things such as the amount of time it takes to set up a PC, how long it takes to register with an online service and the ease of attaching peripheral devices. Also measured would be common operations such as creating or moving files from folder to folder.

Those tests include the Intel Initial Experience Predictor Tool, for measuring the ease with which a PC can be set up, which will be discussed at the developers forum.

More information about the Easy PC Initiative is available at Intel's Developer Web site.

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