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Microsoft to unleash MSN Web appliance

But it's not an NC, it just sounds like one...

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Microsoft is planning to launch an Internet appliance - but it's not a network computer, honest. The company announced the MSN Web Companion last week at Richard Belluzzo's first major gig as VP for the Consumer and Commerce Group, but it was buried in a ton of other stuff, not least Steve Ballmer's attack on his own share price on the very same day. According to Microsoft the Web Companion will go into beta by the end of the year, and will be a CE-based device which is also "powered by MSN.COM." That is, it will be a cheap or free piece of hardware that goes out in conjunction with an MSN sign-up deal along the lines of those MSN and various other outfits have been piloting in recent months. Hardware companies building the devices haven't been named as yet, but we couldn't help noticing MSN's most recent deal was with Acer over the First PC Program, which was announced just a couple of days earlier. So it'll be kind of surprising if Acer isn't one of the companies that gets the gig. Dell, which is also messing around with appliances, and is extremely thick with MS and pro all things Web, would also make sense. Acer has also been going on about limited function XCs for a while, with CE as one of the likely operating systems. Deal, we think. Microsoft says the Companion will be used by consumers "for Web-based services, browsing and e-mail. It is designed for people who want a simple way to get on the Internet, and don't have a need for PC-based applications." It'll be available in desktop and laptop form factors. So you can see the proposed uneasy compromises from there. It's not an NC, because it just does Web stuff. But what's a Web-based service? Well, we've got some remote application stuff going there, haven't we? And isn't Microsoft supposed to be Web-ising its apps? So this nice little device could maybe do remote-running rented apps as well, and it starts looking more like an NC after all. But it also looks a bit like a WebTV, particularly as WebTV is supposed to be moving onto CE as its base platform. And the expression "desktop and laptop form factors" is in the Microsoft release, incidentally, so it's clear the company itself is having trouble with the positioning. ®

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