Sensing a change in the way consumers use computers, Microsoft Corporation is working with networking hardware company 3Com to develop cheap home networking solutions that will allow users to link multiple computers together. The co-branded products will include traditional Ethernet-based systems, home phone line networking kits, radio frequency networking kits, and home power line-based kits. The first products in this new line will become available late this summer.

"Given the trend toward multiple PCs in homes and the growth of broadband Internet access, we anticipate tremendous growth in the home networking arena this year," said Rick Thompson, VP of Microsoft's hardware group. "The products we are building with 3Com let consumers get the most out of their PCs with little effort or technical savvy required."

The hardware introduced by these companies will take advantage of the new Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) feature in Windows 98 OSR and Windows 2000, which allows a single Internet connection, be in dial-up modem, ISDN, cable modem, DSL, or whatever, to service multiple computers simultaneously. Microsoft and 3Com are working on a "no new wires" philosophy that will allow consumers to easily wire computers together using the existing wiring in their homes if desired.