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Commentary: Is There a Spot in your Kitchen for a PC?

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Wednesday that Microsoft is developing a “kitchen computing environment” that includes a family calendar, recipe center, entertainment features and a shared bulletin board. That sounds exactly like the software and services developed by Cozi, a Pioneer Square company started two years ago by ex-Microsofties Robbie Cape and Jan Miksovsky.

Cozi developed a custom software desktop for kitchen PCs and a set of services that lets users access their calendars and shopping lists from mobile phones and remote PCs.

When I interviewed Cape for a story in February, he told me Microsoft had been working on a kitchen PC/services product with a 50-person team, but the project, code-named Ohana, had fizzled.

I wonder if Mary Jo is hearing about a resurrection of Ohana or a new effort. Would Microsoft start completely from scratch on this kind of project?

A kitchen PC may sound weird, but I think it makes sense if you think of these machines as a console/command center for families. The idea is to have a computer that’s always on in a central place so families can check and update calendars, coordinate schedules and activities, plan meals and leave messages for each other.

They also can be used to display photo collections, control a digital-music collection and play TV if the systems have a tuner. Cozi also sees the kitchen PC as an opportunity to aim ads at homemakers, suggesting products for their shopping lists and menu planning, for instance. That’s surely part of Microsoft’s plans as well.

I think there’s a lot of potential for kitchen PCs, but so far the hardware has held them back. PCs are usually too bulky, especially for the kitchen, where counter space is at a premium. I’ve said the kitchen PC will take off when it’s a touch-screen device that can be hung on the wall like a picture frame or a small flat-panel TV.

That may be where Microsoft is heading. Mary Jo said the kitchen project is being done by the Tablet PC team, which has already helped computer makers produce thin, slatelike computers with touch-screen input.

Copyright © 2007, Seattle Times
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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