Microsoft Corp. has launched a new entry in its ongoing effort to bring more innovative PC form factors to market—in the somewhat quirky form of a high-end system specialized for project managers.
The Project PC, introduced at the Association for Project Management Awards in London on Tuesday, is an extension of Microsofts philosophy of customizing PC hardware for specific verticals, the highest-profile examples of which have been the Media Center PC and the Tablet PC. The Project PC can also tap into a growing enterprise demand for smaller form factors, according to industry analysts.
The system isnt as highly tweaked as some of Microsofts previous efforts—its innovation is essentially to offer small-form-factor hardware optimized for multiple screens. Microsoft says multiple screens is the most efficient way for project managers to work with Microsoft Project 2003, but the configuration is usually not supported by standard graphics cards.
If project managers want multiple-screen support, why not just add it to a standard box? Its all about convenience, according to Microsoft: The company sees customers moving away from a one-size-fits-all model toward choosing from a selection of systems specialized for specific vertical markets. “We live in a world of convenience now. People want things built specifically for them. They want to order [a specialized system] and know that it will have the features they require,” said Michala Alexander, U.K. product manager for Microsoft Project.
Making It Easier to
The impetus for Project PC came from customer feedback, Microsoft said, with many project managers finding it difficult to juggle project plans, Excel reports, Word documents and other applications at the same time.
Alexander said the system costs less than it would if the same components were selected separately. At £1,899 (about $3,500), however, the Project PC costs more than businesses might otherwise spend, with much of the cost accounted for by two 17-inch TFT monitors.
Other features include a mini-chassis from Hoojum Design, a 2.8GHz Pentium 4 processor, a 160GB hard drive, a 128MB XFX PCI-E GF6600 graphics card and a DVD+R/-R writer. The system is only on sale in the U.K. for the time being, but Microsoft plans to roll it out elsewhere if it proves to be a success. In the U.K., the system is manufactured by Scan Computers International Ltd.
One factor that could boost sales of systems such as Project PC is a growing demand for smaller form factors, according to analysts. As companies begin spending on desktops again—four years after the last big desktop replacement cycle—many are choosing machines that are quieter, smaller and easier to manage, said research firm IDC.
“Small-form-factor PCs are growing as a percentage of the overall desktop mix,” said Andy Brown, IDCs EMEA program manager for mobile computing. “The market is polarizing into minitower and small-form-factor PCs. As with two-spindle, thin and light notebooks, small-form-factor PCs are proving to be the best compromise.”
Media Center PC, Tablet PC and Project PC arent the only specialized form factors Microsoft is pushing. Last year, for example, Microsoft and HP introduced a communications-oriented system code-named Athens. The prototype, resembling a docked 23-inch Tablet PC, included a phone handset and video camera attached to the units sides, integrating PC, telephone and videoconference functions into one unit.
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