Microsoft to fix Mira's cracks

CES: It will be too late for the first buyers but Microsoft's Smart Display technology will get an important upgrade later this year

An update of Microsoft's Smart Display technology will address shortcomings in the initial version, which Bill Gates is due to launch late on Wednesday during his keynote speech at the CES show in Las Vegas.

Nancy Nemes, European product manager for Smart Displays, said that work on an update is underway. This update will fix issues with multi-user sessions that mean buyers of the first version will find their main PC locks up when they undock their Smart Display to use it remotely.

The update will be available as a software upgrade to products such as the Viewsonic Airpanel V110 and V150, which is going on sale now. "There are limitations in version one," acknowledged Nemes, referring to the multi-session issue. Smart Displays use Microsoft Terminal Services, a technology that was originally developed for Windows NT 4 Server to provide Windows sessions to remote users using the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP).

Windows NT 4 could support many remote users simultaneously, but in bringing the technology to desktop PCs Microsoft removed some functionality. RDP is not included in Windows XP Home Edition at all, and while it is included in Professional Edition, mainly for remote trouble shooting, it only supports a single user session.

This means that only one Mira device can be used with a particular PC at a time, and that when a Mira device is undocked from the PC, the PC will lock up. "There are some technical changes we need to make to RDP, and that takes time," said Nemes, defending the decision to launch without concurrency. She said that to get Smart Displays out, Microsoft had to focus on specific features, and market research showed that concurrency was not top of people's lists.

Because Windows XP Home Edition does not include RDP, most hardware makers are expected to follow ViewSonic's lead and bundle a Windows XP Professional Edition upgrade, which will upgrade all versions of the operating system back to Windows 98.

Nemes said Microsoft is now working on concurrency, and while she declined to give a date for the next version of the software, she indicted that it should be ready "within a couple of months".

Another limitation of Smart Displays is in video streaming over the 802.11b Wi-Fi connection. The bandwidth of 802.11b is 11Mbps, which, said Nemes, will not "give a great experience" for streaming video. The next version is expected to support 802.11a, which at 54Mbps will make watching DVDs and other streamed video on a Smart Display much more practical.

Microsoft added that Samsung and Ben Q have joined the list of companies making Windows Powered Smart Displays. Philips will launch 15-inch DesXcape 150DM Smart Display in the US during the first week of February 2003, which will be packaged with a wireless keyboard for a limited period. Both Philips and Viewsonic are expected to be among the first partners to unveil similar products for the European launch in March.

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