Microsoft wants PC makers to mount mobile phone-like displays on the lids of laptop computers so users can check the time, battery status, appointments or see whether new email has arrived without having to open and start up their PC.

The software maker is including support for such displays in the next version of Windows, codenamed Longhorn, due out in 2006. Microsoft is developing software and reference designs for the displays, which it says will give users instant access to select data and save time and battery life because there is no need to open and boot up the PC.

The display on the lid of a laptop would be similar to a colour mobile phone display and powered by the notebook battery. Data pulled out of applications would be stored in a special memory cache so it is also accessible when the PC is turned off or in standby mode, said Sriram Viji of Microsoft.

In a presentation at the VSLive and Windows Anywhere developer event in San Francisco on Wednesday, Viji showed a picture of an auxiliary display showing a menu of options that included calendar, contacts, tasks, inbox and media player. The picture also showed a set of buttons to allow users to navigate the menu.

In addition to displaying cached data, applications for the auxiliary display could be programmed to periodically wake up the PC, connect to the internet, synchronise data and update that on the display, Viji said.

Besides the actual display, RAM and flash memory, the needed hardware for the auxiliary display would include a lightweight ARM processor and USB and system bus connections, Viji said. The display will run on Spot (Smart Personal Objects Technology) software, which is also used in Microsoft's smart watches, he said.

Microsoft has not calculated the cost of the extra display or what the price premium on a notebook would be, a Microsoft representative said.

While Wednesday's presentation provided more information on Microsoft's plans in this area, the idea is not new. Intel's Newport technology, announced almost exactly two years ago, is based on the same basic idea – a small sub-display on which information such as the number of queued messages, battery life, signal strength and availability of a wireless LAN are displayed.

At last year's Intel Developer Forum the company said it had licensed the technology to China's Lenovo Group and Taiwanese software company Insyde.