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Microsoft drafts script as TV star

The company elaborates on its plans for TV set-top boxes and the servers that work with them.

Microsoft elaborated on its plans for TV set-top boxes today, giving further momentum to this young but growing consumer market.

The company said today that it has released details of its software for both TV set-top devices and the powerful server computers that deliver the service to customers.

The "client" software for set-top devices, called Microsoft TV, works with Internet terminals, advanced TV set-top boxes, and TVs with integrated set-top functions, Microsoft said. The server software, fittingly dubbed Microsoft TV Server, deploys and managing these interactive TV services.

Microsoft said that more than 30 industry-leading companies are "already actively working with the [client] software...to create new devices, services, and content." Client software is the interface that viewers see and interact with, while server software is used on large-scale computers as "back-end" technology that drives the service.

Many believe that in the near future, most consumers will choose to access the Internet through high-speed connections to the television set. As a result, many companies, including Microsoft, are vying to gain an early lead in shaping the interface and features of these devices, as well as the lucrative services that go along with them.

A number of companies, including Philips Electronics and chipmakers Integrated Device Technology and Quantum Effect Design announced support for the technology.

Microsoft also announced support from heavyweights such as AT&T, General Instrument, Scientific-Atlanta, Matsushita Electric Industrial, and Sony.

"The Microsoft TV platform [allows] the television industry to prosper from the convergence of the Internet, digital services, and traditional broadcasting," said Jon DeVaan, vice president of the Consumer and Commerce Group at Microsoft in a statement.

Microsoft said it is tapping into technology used in its WebTV Network service for the client software while "opening the technology and providing more options to more hardware providers, network operators, and consumers worldwide."

The client software is based the Windows CE operating system and allows service providers to "customize the user interface to online content."

The software kit includes a Microsoft-designed electronic program guide for broadcasters and producers delivering interactive programming and content. The Microsoft TV Server suite of software provides tools to "manage and operate a large-scale, commercial-grade, enhanced TV service," Microsoft said.

The server software is built on the Windows 2000 Server, the Microsoft BackOffice family, and WebTV technologies and is "designed to integrate with a network operator's existing systems for billing, customer service, network management, video on demand, and other existing or specialized back-end applications," the company said.

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