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Microsoft boosts Bluetooth with hardware

Microsoft has taken another step into the Bluetooth camp with its announcement last week that it will begin shipping a USB Bluetooth transceiver, keyboard and mouse later this year, using the wireless networking technology to connect to PCs. The transceiver will allow users to set up their own Personal Area Networks (PANs) of interconnected devices, including PCs, PDAs, printers, mobile phones and input devices.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates made the announcement during his keynote address at the company's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC), held in Seattle last week. Microsoft is also expected to release a development kit in May to help programmers support the wireless networking technology later this year, and to post a download that will give its Windows XP operating system built-in Bluetooth abilities this fall.

Bluetooth backers insist the radio-frequency communication standard will eliminate cable clutter, make it easier to synchronize handheld computers and PCs, connect microphones and headsets to computers, support the use of next-generation cell phones as modems and just generally open the door for pervasive implementation of PANs.

But Bluetooth has been slow to find widespread acceptance in the marketplace. Consequently, Microsoft's backing of the technology comes as a much-needed boon.

Microsoft announced last year that it would be creating native support for Bluetooth in XP. Yet Windows XP support was not a part of the first release of the OS. Microsoft blamed a lack of production-quality devices conforming to the Bluetooth specification.

The Redmond, Wash., software giant has embraced Bluetooth almost reluctantly. The company has been putting most of its weight behind WiFi (802.11x), which many industry watchers have considered the winner in the race between the two competing short-range wireless technologies.

But that race is far from over. Analysts at research firm In-Stat/MDR expect to see 100 million PANs installed this year alone, and expect that figure to approach 900 million in 2005.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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