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Origami Anyone?

Larry Magid analyzes technical issues for CBS News and

There's been a lot of speculation about Microsoft's Origami Project, fueled in part by a Microsoft-owned Web site that says almost nothing, but promises more information on Thursday, March 2, 2006.

Word on the Net is that the Origami Project is a code name for an upcoming handheld device that is like a tablet PC, only smaller. Microsoft is remaining mum on details but has repeatedly said that is working with manufacturers on a variety of different-sized handheld devices.

A video on the site shows such a device in action. Microsoft reportedly has confirmed that it produced the video but says that it's old footage and not necessarily a preview of any product in the works.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that Microsoft has confirmed that is planning an "ultra-mobile PC device."

I am not surprised that Microsoft is working on a device like this. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates has said many times that his company is looking at a variety of different form factors for devices for gaming, e-mail, consuming media and other functions. In fact, Gates has shown similar prototype devices at developers conferences.

The San Jose Mercury News reported that Microsoft's hardware partners are likely to introduce "ultramobile PCs" at the Cebit technology tradeshow, which gets under way March 9 in Hanover, Germany (I'll be reporting from that show and will let you know if such a device is introduced there).

Unlike most earlier handheld devices, the "Origami" is said to run the full Windows XP operating system and, eventually, Windows Vista after it's released later this year. Other Microsoft-sanctioned small handhelds run the Windows Mobil operating system, which is optimized for PDAs and other devices with less horsepower than full-fledged PCs. One exception is the OQO computer, which is a handheld PC that runs Windows XP.

Such a device could have multiple uses including listening to music, watching video, playing games, serving as a portable navigation system and – of course – general-purpose computing tasks, assuming it can be equipped with an optional keyboard and mouse.

A syndicated technology columnist for more than two decades, Larry Magid serves as on air Technology Analyst for CBS Radio News. His technology reports can be heard several times a week on the CBS Radio Network. Magid is the author of several books including "The Little PC Book."

By Larry Magid