One of the really cool things Microsoft has formally unveiled at CES this year is SideShow. This is a sub-PDA functionality set used to produce smart, low power, functional devices. For instance imagine being able to check your calendar without turning on your PC, or view the weather forecast or stock tips.

SideShow devices can be really small and stand-alone, or built into other bits of hardware - keyboards, speakers or remote controls - to extend their functionality in new and useful (not just cool) ways.

What makes them so neat is that with minimal changes they run Gadgets built for Vista, so apparently no complicated development path. Obviously because they don't have the same levels of connectivity as a PC (they rely on the host usually to talk to the web, though there is at least one device with a built-in WiFi stack and VoIP client) but the framework helps take care of that.

The architecture is new, but based on the .net microframework which has been around and evolving as part of the Microsoft SmartWatch platform.

Both Asus and LG have revealed neat new laptops with SideShow devices built into the lid so you can check information and play back music without powering up the PC. With both of these you can sync 1GB of music to the device or, if the laptop is powered up, access the full Windows Media experience as a remote control.

MSI have unveiled a Companion Device - a small credit-card sized device which syncs wirelessly to your PC and you can access your information anywhere... anyone remember Rex it's all grown up now ;)

They also demonstrated a number of Universal / Windows Media Center remote controls - allowing you to manage the TV guide without interrupting what folks are watching, or cue up music without turning on the TV - I really want one of those devices!

There was also a demonstration of a Logitech G15 keyboard and Z10 speakers hacked with SideShow drivers... official support for Q2 2007. By next Christmas I'll have so many ways to control my music I won't know which way to turn!

The one thing that doesn't seem to be available, but IMO would be really cool is have a SideShow app that can be downloaded to legacy PocketPC devices like my K-Jam... Maybe someone will be able to knock something up soon...

Check out the video demo at on10, the official blog for the team developing the product and a great (unofficial) site with heaps of information. Once you get your hands on a device you'll want to check out the Gadget Gallery for cool things top do with it.

Update: The folks at engadget spotted this really cool SideShow device embedded in a messenger bag!