Computing giants to debut new gear at CES

The computing industry will up the ante on its consumer bet this week, as Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and other tech stalwarts head to Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show. CES, the main trade show for producers of high-tech gadgets and once primarily a showcase for hi-fi components and clock radios, has become increasingly dominated in recent years by companies more typically associated with business technology. The 2004 edition of the show, which runs Thursday through Saturday, will be no exception, as companies ranging from Linux distributors to chip designers compete for a chunk of the growing consumer gadget business.

Microsoft kicks off the festivities with a pre-show speech Wednesday by Chairman Bill Gates, who is expected to push an up-close-and-personal version of the "seamless computing" message he delivered earlier at the Comdex trade show. Key consumer elements of the strategy include several technologies Gates unveiled at last year's Comdex but Microsoft has yet to deliver into the marketplace. Watches based on Smart Personal Object Technology (SPOT) will display weather forecasts, sports scores, e-mail and other data transmitted over a wireless service run as part of Microsoft's MSN family.

The network is ready, said Aaron Woodman, group product manager for consumer strategy at Microsoft. Watches that can access the service are set to go on sale in January, with manufacturers such as Fossil likely to schedule product launches around CES. Woodman said SPOT is a great example of the seamless computing promise of having digital data available wherever it might be useful. "You have an opportunity all of the sudden to deliver services people can really benefit from," he said.

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