Actual Bluetooth-enabled products may be thin on the ground but Microsoft is sufficiently confident in the emergence of the wireless technology to put its considerable weight behind it.

Bluetooth is a standard for short-distance wireless communications which connects devices at speeds of up to 1Mbps at maximum distances of 10 metres.

Wireless PANs (personal area networks) is where Microsoft "feels that Bluetooth is a great technology," said Mike Foley, a wireless architect at Microsoft.

According to Foley, Microsoft will have Bluetooth embedded in the full release of the company's next-generation Windows operating system, currently codenamed Whistler, as well as future releases of Windows 2000.

Whistler is Microsoft's latest attempt to further its .Net initiative and design operating systems that are more tightly integrated with both the Internet and the devices that connect to it.

Microsoft is planning to release Whistler in the second half of 2001 with server releases following soon after, Foley said.

"Microsoft will support the Bluetooth specification 1.1 which is expected in December (this year) or January of next year and there will be specification-compliant devices soon after," Foley said.

The Bluetooth technology, first announced by Ericsson in 1998 as a way to cut the cords between its mobile phones and headsets, uses a small radio chip to replace cable connections in many devices.

These include laptops, headphones, and printers.
Though there was been considerable anticipation about Bluetooth-embedded products, some vendors already believe that the technology's time has passed.

Speaking to PC Advisor’s sister company, the IDG News Service, Microsoft's Foley said that he understands why many are criticising Bluetooth’s late emergence, but he believes the reports of the standard’s demise are premature. "I see too many people really working on it and too much development around it. I really don't think it's too late and that what Bluetooth can do is still compelling," Foley said.

According to Foley, users can expect to see a variety of Bluetooth products by the second quarter of 2001, including Microsoft's Bluetooth-enabled Pocket PC.

The Microsoft executive said he doesn't believe that Bluetooth will replace the wireless LAN (local area network) industry standard, IEEE 802.11b, which supports transmission speeds of up to 11M bps. "Bluetooth is not a wireless LAN. There are better standards for wireless LANs," Foley said.