If you're not familiar with Mira, then you soon will be. Microsoft's 'smart display' will be hitting retail shelves early in 2003, and a large publicity and advertising drive is likely to accompany it. Some of this advertising will no doubt go towards explaining why Mira works the way it does, and in fact during a press tour this week that preceded the launch, we were indeed told that consumers will need "re-educating".
Now before you go racing for your parka, this does not mean that you're about to be shipped off to a Chinese gulag staffed by Cultural Revolution die-hards. No, it means that you are to be immersed into the weird and not-so-wonderful world of Microsoft licensing.
Microsoft's corporate customers have already had a taste of this; it was necessary to make them see the sense in buying two licences so that one person can use one PC. If you think that is too odd to be true, just find someone who uses a Citrix client on a Windows PC to run applications residing on a Windows server. Corporates also had another taster of Microsoft licensing when they discovered, some years back, that Windows NT4 Workstation was much more similar to Windows NT4 Server than Microsoft had ever admitted, and the only thing that stopped the Workstation product being used a Web server platform was a peculiar registry setting and a licence that said no more than ten people at once could access the machine running the operating system.
Now we all know that consumers are smarter that corporates. Consumers would never buy the spin. Say, for instance, that Microsoft offered a product -- through hardware manufacturing partners -- that let you use your PC remotely, but made it impossible for someone else to use the PC while you were using this remote terminal. It would be like saying that if you took the cushion from your chair to go sit on the sofa, nobody else is allowed to sit on the chair unless they buy a cushion too.
But that's exactly what Mira does. It is basically a remote control for your PC; a touch-sensitive screen linked by Wi-Fi that acts as a mobile window to Windows. Only, when you remove it from its docking station to use it remotely, the PC locks up, just to be absolutely sure that your other half doesn't break the terms of the Windows licence by -- heaven forbid -- using the PC in the study while you're using it from the sofa in the lounge. Just imagine. The civilised world would crumble.