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MS and Toshiba huddle to create e-book standard

One more integration before they call me off...

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Another day, another integration. Microsoft has shown every sign of betting heavily on the e-book as a one way to get Windows CE to succeed, and now the company has struck a deal with Toshiba to co-develop LCD technology optimised for portable electronic devices that can be used to download books.

It's not entirely clear what it is that Microsoft knows about LCDs that long-standing volume LCD designer and manufacturer Toshiba doesn't, but Microsoft does have Cleartype technology, and it has a growing clutch of deals with publishing outfits to use Cleartype for downloadable books. Cleartype has been repeatedly brandished by Microsoft as an example of the great stuff Microsoft Research has come up with, but in reality it's one of the few things MS Research has come up with so far (speech recognition, how long, oh lord, how long?). And, as we've repeatedly pointed out here, Cleartype isn't that clever or innovative anyway.

So what's the deal this time? The display the two companies are developing the specs for will be a 7.7in colour low-temperature polysilicon TFT, due to go into prototype by the end of this year. It will be "optimised" for Cleartype, and presumably this will be Microsoft's contribution, along with putting together more Cleartype deals with publishers, and maybe putting together a reference design for Microsoft electronic books.

The Toshiba contribution will be to get the component count down by 40 per cent over current LCDs of this size and - we'd hazard - maybe to build e-books in huge volumes. Toshiba pitches the component cut as being important for increasing battery life and making the devices more durable, but it's also obviously vital to get the cost down. If e-books are to succeed, they have to be cheap or even - to borrow the subsidised phone concept and call it book of the month club - free. Given the LCD sizes being built into notebooks now, 7.7in could be pretty cheap anyway, and if Tosh can make it more so, so much the better.

So WinCE or derivative finally makes it in volume and dominates the e-book market thanks to Cleartype, content deals and cheap LCDs? It could happen, and if this becomes the standard, everybody else will have to cough for a Cleartype licence... ®

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