To demonstrate Microsoft's focus on the PC as a home entertainment and connectivity hub, Bill Gates has offered the first public demonstration of Whistler, the code name for the next version of Windows due out later this year.

Whistler dispenses with the old Windows 9x code and is based instead on the same software core or "kernel" as Windows 2000. "By moving Windows 2000 to the [consumer] PC, we create a machine you'll be leaving on 24 hours a day, a machine that can continue to act as a server for the picture frames, the music devices, the peripherals around the house," Gates said at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

Whistler also attempts to do away with most of the icons that clutter the desktop screen. Instead, the OS presents users with a simple login screen that allows up to four users to log on and access their own applications and data. A revamped Start menu makes readily available a user's favourite applications and documents.

Gates also hosted a demonstration of a forthcoming version of Microsoft's Pocket PC platform for PDAs, called Pocket PC Plus.

A prototype IPaq PDA from Compaq was shown that included full voice recognition, allowing a user to create e-mail and set up calendar entries using voice commands. Until now, a lack of processing power and memory has made speech recognition hard to achieve effectively on handheld computers.

Using a wireless connection provided by the 802.11b standard, the device was also used to play a video clip and music broadcast from a PC across the stage. Gates didn't say when Pocket PC Plus would be released commercially.

Gates's notion of the PC as a server for multiple devices was emphasised at the same show by Craig Barrett, Intel's chief executive officer and president.

Both executives referred to an "extended PC" era in which they see the PC's value being enhanced by its role as a storage and communications hub for digital cameras, Internet appliances, set-top boxes, and other peripherals around the home and office.

Both companies have acknowledged the changing landscape of the PC world by making substantial investments in other products: Intel in networking equipment and digital music players, for example, and Microsoft in its gaming console, WebTV set-top box, and Pocket PC platform.

Gates also showed prototype devices developed by Microsoft to illustrate the kind of world people can expect to live in when wireless networking technologies like 802.11b and Bluetooth become commonplace - and if standards like Microsoft's Universal Plug and Play, which allows multiple devices to be linked easily to a network, catch on.

The devices included an alarm clock with an LCD screen and a speaker that was used to play music delivered wirelessly from a PC.