Does a product that has been three years in the making (more if you count development time) have any viability in a world where everything is measured in Internet time? We'll find out on March 27 when FlipStart Labs ships its FlipStart PC to customers.

The FlipStart when the prototype was shown at the 2004 Demo event, under the name of MiniPC. Back then, the company, funded by Paul Allen, was called Vulcan, and we all thought the miniature PC - the prototype ran a full version of Windows XP - would be out by year-end. After a while of not hearing about the device (and hearing lots of rumors about what was going on with the device), the world moved on and we focused on other products.

To recap, the $2,000 FlipStart is an ultracompact PC (less than 2 pounds) with a clamshell design that flips open to reveal its screen and keyboard. The device can run any Windows application - you can choose a system with Windows XP Professional or Windows Vista Business. Network connectivity includes an embedded Ethernet port, built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, as well as high-speed mobile broadband connectivity (no specific networks; the company says the device is "mobile broadband ready").

The FlipStart's 5.6-inch display supports 1,024-by-600-pixel resolution and operates off an Intel Pentium M Ultra Low Voltage processor. It includes 512 Mbyte of RAM, and a 30 Gbyte shock-mounted hard drive. Battery life will range from one to three hours with the slimline battery, and three to six hours with the high-capacity battery, FlipStart Labs says.

Unique features include the Navigator, which gives fast access to e-mail, calendar, contacts and frequently accessed applications and folders; a zoom feature that lets users zoom into a specific window or Web image; and the InfoPane, which lets users access Outlook e-mail, contacts and calendar items without having to open the FlipStart (it's located on the outside of the device).

Dedicated keys

Because the device is smaller than a regular notebook, FlipStart aims to improve navigation by including dedicated keys for processes that users perform most. For example, there's a dedicated key for the Ctrl+Alt+Del process, as well as dedicated keys for the zoom feature, Navigator feature, as well as the Windows Desktop and Windows Toggle functions.

The FlipStart will come with a USB 2.0 port, 3.5-mm stereo headphone/microphone jack, dual built-in microphones and a speaker, as well as an internal VGA digital camera. A full-port replicator will let users connect the device to full-size monitors and additional peripherals through two additional USB 2.0 ports.

The time may be right

When the FlipStart prototype was showed at Demo 2004, the closest competitor was the OQO device. Since then, Microsoft has launched its ultra-mobile PC (remember the Origami hype from last year?) operating system with several hardware partners (Samsung among them). Then there's the June-arriving Apple iPhone, which many say will not only reinvent the cell phone but may invent the idea of an ultraportable, mobile device that could replace the notebook PC.