Microsoft wants PC buyers to recognize a machine running its forthcoming Windows Vista operating system from afar.
The software giant has already set out the minimum hardware requirements for a PC to run the operating system.
Now its begun sharing ideas on how to design a Vista PC as part of what it calls the Vista Industrial Design Toolkit.
The kit, which has been distributed to about 70 different companies, offers PC and peripherals manufacturers as well as product design firms a number of ideas on ways to shape PCs and related hardware to complement the operating systems new features.
The kits, whose design ideas remain under wraps at the moment but are believed to convey ideas of simplicity and elegance, comes as Microsoft pushes to release Windows Vista in the coming months.
The software giant, which recently reset its timetable for Vistas release—it promised to deliver the OS to businesses in November 2006 and pushed back its general release until January 2007—is expected to release its Vista RC1 (release candidate 1), a near-final beta version of the OS, in late August, for example.
"We developed the Industrial Design Toolkit as a way to easily show our partners how they can build PCs and devices that reflect the creativity and uniqueness of the Windows Vista UI, with the end goal of creating to a deeper level of cohesion between Windows Vista and the hardware that supports it," a Microsoft spokesperson said in an e-mail to eWEEK.
Indeed, the Vista ethos can be hard to define as, outside of its new user interface, many of the OS numerous new or updated features are found under the hood, said Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates in Wayland, Mass.
"There are a lot of good things in Vista that are invisible," Kay said, referring to improvements in the Vista security or the way the OS renders graphics.
"If youre Microsoft…you want [hardware design] to be something splashy. If the only thing you can point to is the Aero interface—customers might say, Why do I have to go buy a new PC just to get this new interface?—thats a problem."
Thus distinctive PC designs, however theyre shaped, would do more to set Vista PCs apart and thus potentially drive demand for them, Kay said.
With a crop of all-new machines, "They could say, Its not just an OS, its a whole new ecosystem," he said.
That way, "There will be more of a signal that this is a new thing… a brand new thing with an entire set of new elements."
Although any PC with an 800MHz processor, 512MB of RAM and a DirectX 9-capable graphics processor can run Vista, Microsofts Windows Vista Premium Ready PC specification, which ensures a PC can run all of Vistas features including its Aero three-dimensional user interface, calls for somewhat stouter minimums.
A PC must include a minimum of a 1GHz processor, 1GB of RAM and 128MB of dedicated graphics memory, along with a fairly recent graphics processor that meets several additional specifications.
The machines must also have at least a 40GB hard drive or 15GB of free space on their hard drives and an internal or external DVD-ROM drive.
Microsoft continues to distribute the design kit to additional PC makers, peripherals vendors and design firms, the Microsoft spokesperson said via e-mail.
There are no rules that dictate how a company that receives the kit must use it, she said.
Once Vistas launch grows closer, Microsoft intends to share more about the design ideas embodied in the kit.
At that time, it intends to detail contents of the kits contents, the partners that are using it and details on the hardware that is being created, the spokesperson said.