Before Android devices, before iPads, before Surface tablets and when Windows laptops were still chunky devices, Microsoft tried a category of PCs for people wanting to take a PC on the go.

Project Origami was Microsoft’s attempt in 2006 to bring together a set of specifications for small lightweight mobile PCs. The category was called UMPC (Ultra Mobile PCs) and OEMs like Samsung, Sony and OQO all brought out devices.


The specifications were screens of eight inches or smaller with a minimum resolution of 800×400. They had to have a touch screen or at least support a Pen input, and they ran either Intel or VIA processors. They had around 256mb to 2gb of RAM and small drives, between 25gb and 100gb.

Full versions of Windows

What set them apart from Windows Mobile devices was they ran full version of Windows and not a cut down version of an OS. 2006 that was Windows XP Tablet Edition and later they shipped with Windows Vista and then Windows 7. The idea was they would be full PCs but with a form factor that made them ideal for web browsing and media consumption.

Origami Experience

Windows XP wasn’t designed for small form factor devices and even the Tablet Edition wasn’t ideal for the small screens. So, Microsoft created the Origami Experience designed for these devices running Windows XP and Windows Vista. It was a large UI with big touch targets, media player and photo viewer. It even had an application launcher but once you launched an application you were back to small touch targets.

You could also use Windows Media Center which was Microsoft’s ten-foot application designed for PCs connected to TVs, and this worked well on the small screens.

Rise and fall of the UMPC

The UMPC category started in 2006 with the Samsung Q1 (which I had) and devices from AMtek and OQO. Sony released the VIAO UX (which I still have) and the UX had a flash-based SSD which made it one of the best performing UMPCs. There were also devices from Raon and Wibrain. In 2007 Bill Gates introduced the OQO Model 2 at CES which went on to be one of the most popular UMPCs. In 2008 there was the HTC Shift which ran Windows Vista.

However, there were problems with UMPCs and its why they don’t really exist anymore. The fundamental issues with UMPCs were performance, price, and user experience.

The Samsung Q1 was over £1000 and the Sony VGN-UX1XN was around £2000. If they had been £500 or less, they may have been picked up by consumers but at over £1000 they would only ever be a niche device.

The other issue was performance. Slow processors, low amounts of RAM and small disks didn’t work well with Windows, especially Windows Vista. My Q1 was always slow, the Sony with its SSD was a little quicker but the 1.33ghz Intel Core Solo process wasn’t that quick. The final nail in the coffin was the small touch targets in Windows, the Origami Experience shell helped but you soon end up at the standard Windows UI and on a five-inch device that is not easy to use. It wouldn’t be until Windows 8 that Microsoft put the touch UI front and centre in the OS.

So, by 2010 Microsoft stopped marketing UMPCs and OEMs left UMPCs for tablets, Ultra books, and netbooks. There were some 7-inch tablets released in the Window 8 era, but we haven’t really seen the UMPC form factor return other than some specialist devices.

In this video I look back at UMPCs and my Sony UX running Windows Vista with the Origami Experience loaded.

Did you have a UMPC? Let us know in the comments.

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