Microsoft and Hewlett Packard today announced they are working together on a future desktop reference design that will bring several different communications technologies into a single package.

The PC is codenamed Athens, and the prototype resembles a docked Tablet PC in landscape mode. However, with a 23in flat-panel display, it is not designed for mobility, said Byron Sands, director of advanced technology for HP's business PC division.

That display comes with a phone handset and video camera tacked on to its sides, so users can hold videoconferences, take phone calls and handle the rest of their daily web browsing and email through one desktop, Sands said. Any portion of a normal PC that relates to the user interface is part of the display screen, including media ports and optical drives.

The rest of the PC, such as the processor and motherboard, fits into a compact chassis that connects to the display via a single cable that delivers data and power to the screen, said Kent Biggs, a senior member of the technical staff for the business PC division. The device uses a wireless keyboard and mouse.

Right now, HP and Microsoft are "wireless-agnostic" when it comes to choosing the best wireless technology for Athens. Because additional wireless technologies might come into vogue by the time Athens is ready in 2004 or later, the companies aren't committing to one technology or another. Bluetooth was used in the prototype for the mouse, and the keyboard uses RF (radio frequency) technology.

Athens is designed to be a standard desktop in the future, rather than a premium machine, Sands said.

The reference design is the latest specialised version of the PC that Microsoft has helped hardware companies bring to market. Both the Tablet PC and the Media Centre PC were developed in conjunction with specific versions of Microsoft's Windows XP operating system.