msnbc.com news services
updated 3/2/2006 11:35:19 AM ET 2006-03-02T16:35:19

The veil of mystery surrounding Microsoft’s secretive Origami portable device lifted just a little on Thursday after the firm updated the project’s cryptic Web site, hinting that all would be revealed on March 9.

It may be coincidence, but March 9 is also the launch in Hannover, Germany, of CeBit, the world’s largest annual trade show for the information and telecommunications technology industry.

Information from Microsoft on Origami is sketchy to say the least. Industry reports predict it is the company’s long-awaited offering hoping to take a bite out of rival Apple’s all-conquering i-Pod. (MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

Instead, Origami is the moniker for the first iteration of paperback-sized computers that will run Microsoft's regular Windows XP operating system, a person close to Microsoft told The Associated Press.

The person, who is familiar with the plans, spoke on condition of anonymity because the information is still confidential.

Microsoft has confirmed that an ultra-mobile PC is in the works, but the company has declined to offer specific details. A Web site set up by the company, www.origamiproject.com, has been teasing would-be buyers with tidbits about the project, and fueling speculation about what the new devices might do.

The viral marketing approach is well employed by Apple, with a feeding frenzy of media attention and rumors generated ahead of each release of the iPod, iBook and iMac products as the often wildly conflicting information is dripped out drop by drop.

Origami is expected to be the size of a paperback book, able to play music, games, connect to the internet and run software.

The so-called "ultra-mobile PCs" are being targeted initially at tech-savvy consumers who want a smaller computer that is easy to take on vacation, in the subway or anywhere else where a full-sized PC would seem too bulky, the person familiar with the plans said.

The early versions are expected to be available to consumers soon after its debut at CeBit, the person said.

They will be built by a variety of computer makers, this person said, and are expected to sell for between $500 and $1,000, although final prices aren't yet available.

The computers will generally be less powerful than full-fledged PCs, although they will have all the functionality of a Windows PC, this person said. The small size means they won't necessarily have a keyboard. Some other small or advanced computer devices let people use a stylus and a touch screen rather than a keyboard to input information.

Microsoft is expecting that people will use the small computers for things like looking at photos, watching movies, finding driving directions and checking e-mail. For now, at least, they will not have the advanced entertainment capabilities found in computers running the "media center" version of Windows, this person said. Those computers allow people to do things like record television.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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