HP, Microsoft collaborate on real-time PC

Banking on a future that positions the PC as an all-purpose business communications tool, Hewlett-Packard Co. and Microsoft Corp. announced that they are developing a device that emphasizes real-time communications.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based HP unveiled the offering at Comdex last week. Code named Agora, the prototype “business communications concept” PC meshes hardware with real-time software including file sharing, voice telephony, whiteboarding and videoconferencing.

Agora – Greek for “meeting place” – will also feature wireless networking capabilities.

HP said the “minimalist” hardware form factor is comprised of a flat-panel monitor that features an optical drive, expansion ports and speakers within the monitor base. In addition, Agora also offers a wireless keyboard and mouse, allowing for a potentially more ergonomic desktop space.

At present, the “integrated collaborative software tools” are from various vendors. HP said it will team with Microsoft to ensure the offering is fully integrated and compatible with future versions of Windows.

The future of business computing and communications incorporates real-time communication and information sharing which leads overall business efficiency, HP claimed.

There is one caveat, however – HP said the product is still in the developmental stages and is not expected to be available until 2004.

Even so, that timeframe is still ahead of widespread adoption of these technologies, according to Warren Chaisatien, a senior analyst with Toronto-based IDC Canada Ltd. The industry is focusing on developing enhanced communication features for PCs but Chaisatien noted that it’s at least three years out – 2005 – until emerging technologies such as wireless devices, videoconferencing and voice telephony take complete hold of the enterprise.

“In theory, real-time communications is here,” Chaisatien said, adding that in reality, there are obstacles to putting the technologies into practice.

The potential drivers, Chaisatien said, include the rise of IP and VPN-based networks, along with the emergence of multiple types of applications that can be easily transported onto a single network.

Barriers include bandwidth issues and the glacier-like migration to 3G which can better facilitate seamless real-time communications on PCs, he added.

Also, the market is still grappling with a myriad of standards – these will have to be reconciled before the technologies take off, he said.