Microsoft low-cost MSN appliance out in Q3

CE-based, and built by eMachines

Microsoft's dedicated MSN access device, the much demoed MSN Web Companion, is to be built by low-price PC vendor eMachines, and will go onto the market in the third quarter of this year (we think they mean September rather than Saturday). It'll be priced "well below traditional PCs," and will be based on the CE operating system.

Which of course Microsoft rebranded as Windows Powered earlier this year, but it seems to have forgotten about this for the Companion announcement. The Companion is intended to be aimed at "consumers who are new to using email and the Internet," but that sounds more like a desperate attempt by Microsoft to avoid cannibalising its own Windows markets and those of its PC customers. If it's any good, and cheap, then even experienced users could want to shove one in the kitchen, say.

It'll power on instantly, and access the Web via MSN. It's not clear to what extent Microsoft intends to allow it to access the Web any other way, but our guess is that it'll use a derivative of the MSN UI ("Mars") currently in preparation, and that there's a likelihood the MSN homepage will be hardwired into it. It will however include IE, and will provide "full access to the entire Web." Despite that, it looks like another step down Integration Alley that might as well have been planned to raise judges' hackles.

It'll come with a proper monitor, which is a plus, although that could also be a negative in the kitchen. But if you want LCD, you're going to have to pay for it, and that would set the price of the Companion too high. It'll also have (we assume Microsoft's shiny new) media playing technologies built in.

The coyness about the price is, we presume, because the actual selling price will be dependent on the kinds of discount deals on offer. The build cost ought to be low enough for it to be feasible for them to go out at $99 or less if customers are prepared to sign up for two to three years.

Register footnote: For those of you about to mail us telling us we missed a gag by failing to call it the MSN WC - no, we didn't. ®

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