Microsoft to unfold ‘Origami’ portable computers

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Microsoft is this week expected to unveil the blueprint for a portable computer sized between a mobile telephone and a laptop.

The world’s biggest software company, working with several hardware manufacturers including Samsung, is set to unveil the plan on Thursday, according to a person familiar with the plans.

However, some analysts warn that establishing a new category of low-cost personal electronic gadget is fraught with difficulty.

“The PC world is littered with the bodies of devices that didn’t make it,” said Leslie Fiering, a Gartner analyst who had been briefed on the Origami device but would not provide details because of a confidentiality agreement.

“A lot of things have to be executed flawlessly,” she said.

Apple’s Newton was the most celebrated failure, while Microsoft’s Tablet PC, launched more than three years ago, has had only modest sales.

Buzz about the Microsoft project, code-named “Origami”, began to emerge last week after bloggers discovered a promotional website created by Microsoft that contained hints about a “mobile PC running Windows XP”.

Richard Doherty, an analyst at Envisioneering, a US research firm, said he expected the new gadgets to be priced between $400 and $1000, depending on specifications. The machines would run popular software applications, but their “real purpose” was to be wireless, allowing them to connect to online applications that Microsoft announced late last year.

That could make the Origami project an important element in Microsoft’s increasing competition with Google, which is also said to have talked to electronics companies about devices to make its services more widely available than on PCs.

Hardware companies have begun to show an increased interest in small computers powerful enough to deliver web browsing and other popular applications over wireless connections. Last autumn, Sony, the consumer electronics company, launched a line of small wi-fi tablet computers about the size of a paperback book. Nokia, the mobile handset maker, launched a small, Linux-powered tablet device.

Another web teaser that went active last week indicated that Intel, the chipmaker, was preparing to unveil its own “ultra-mobile” PC tomorrow.

“It’s really a long-term concept of a personal box that you can take with you anywhere,” Ms Fiering said of the Origami project.

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