RETRO TECH: Microsoft Mira

Poor Microsoft can never seem to get a break. Any time they mimic an existing product (like say, their Zune to Apple’s iPod) critics say they’re just copying someone else’s work. But when they do come up with something cool, no one seems to buy it. That’s exactly the case with Mira, a “Smart Display” device:


Here’s how it worked: the tablet computer ran Microsoft Windows CE for Smart Displays (thankfully shortened to just “Smart Display OS”). It was nearly instant-on, and it would automagically connect to a desktop PC running Windows XP via Remote Desktop. So you could be sitting at your desk working on something and suddenly decide to go sit on the downstairs sofa, or the back deck, or the big comfy bed. You’d bring your Smart Display with you and BOOM! in seconds you have your desktop on the screen, and can continue what you were doing.

While it was a really cool idea – hell, I still like the idea of a Smart Display… imagine a 19″ model with today’s thin hardware that could sit on a stand like a regular monitor until you wanted to leave your desk – the actual implementation of the device left a lot to be desired.

For one thing, the 802.11b Wi-Fi of the day simply wasn’t fast enough to allow wireless videos, and Remote Desktop didn’t have any video optimizations at the time. The touchscreen tech was subpar at the time. The battery life wasn’t nearly as good as a modern iPad or Android tablet. The tablet was as thick and heavy as a notebook, but was useless without a desktop PC to “mate” with. What’s worse, Microsoft desperately wanted vendors to sell them in the $500 range, but devices were introduced at between $1,000 and $1,500… at at time when a decent notebook with far more functionality could be had for $600.

But the funniest thing about the devices was Microsoft’s own licensing issues. Because only Windows XP Professional (or higher) allowed Remote Desktop connections, millions of consumers running Windows XP Home were out of luck. But even if you were lucky enough to run XP Pro, that OS only allowed a single session, meaning that once you connected to your computer with the Smart Display, the desktop would be locked and no one else could use it until you shut down the Smart Display device. And because of XP’s RDP limitations, only one device could connect to a PC at a time. So Mom, Dad, Johnny and Susie couldn’t use their Smart Displays at the same time… unless they had individual computers to connect to.

Of course, Microsoft probably could have fixed the RDP\licensing issues if Smart Displays really took off. But they didn’t. They were released in early 2003 and discontinued in December of that year.

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