Addressing an audience at Microsoft's Press Center in Redmond, WA, in November, as well as reporters linked in by phone and computer, Dan Weadock, president and CEO, ITT Sheraton, along with executives from 3Com, Asia Connect, Tandem, and Microsoft, unveiled Sheraton.Net, a "really cool" system to be installed in the chain's rooms worldwide.

Described as "a groundbreaking, multilingual, in-room communications, information, and entertainment platform," Sheraton.Net will allow business travelers to receive private, secure e-mail, faxes, and voice mail through the televisions in their rooms. But that's not all. Software such as PowerPoint, already loaded in the rooms, will allow guests to work on presentations that they've e-mailed ahead of time to their own personal Sheraton e-mail boxes. Weadock called it "a true office away from the office, a home away from home." Ray Cheng, president and CEO, Asia Connect, who said he cooked up the idea with Weadock at a cocktail party in Penang, Malaysia, gave a demo of the system's features at the press conference.

After launching the system, a guest can click on Fitness Center, for example, and see its operating hours. (Eventually, video clips will show what the center looks like.) Guests will also be able to get information about "local content partners," such as restaurants and clubs. They'll be able to get the latest currency exchange rates, check stock information and sports scores, see airline schedules and make reservations, and search encyclopedias and reference books.

More impressive, the guest will have access to a "unified mail box," one that handles his or her voice messages, e-mail, and faxes. Sick of USA Today? Then use the system to pick the daily newspaper you'd prefer (from a list of 4,000), and that one will be delivered--online.

Still not entertained? Well, you can also watch videos on demand (and pause them to take a phone call or get more ice), order room service, or play around with Microsoft's Flight Simulator. Much of Sheraton.Net's content, in fact, comes from Microsoft and its work on interactive TV. "But this is only the beginning," Cheng said. "This platform allows us to build for the future. The most powerful part is the personalization," he continued, explaining that once Sheraton has a guest's profile, things like appropriate newspaper "delivery" will be automatic.

"This system is just really cool," said Richard Fade, vice president of Microsoft's desktop applications division. "It's going to surprise and delight Sheraton guests."

Sheraton.Net's worldwide launch be-gan with a pilot in Sydney, Australia, in December. The Asia-Pacific rollout will begin in February 1998, with installation in ITT Sheraton properties in Europe, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Caesars properties in North America to follow.