Microsoft's plan to announce this week that it will add technology to the Whistler version of Windows 2000 to support digital television is yet another attempt to find life for Windows in the post-PC era.
The announcement reflects
Microsoft's strategy is a pragmatic "shotgun approach." The Redmond, Wash., giant is placing a relatively small bet in each emerging technology category to ensure itself a spot at the table. Rather than giving up on cable set-top boxes, Gartner believes Microsoft is merely hedging its bets.
In the case of digital television, the cable, computing and broadcasting industries are fighting for the money to be made from delivering interactive content to consumers. Microsoft is playing the role of an "independent arms dealer" by making significant investments in cable companies, providing technology for cable set-top boxes, pursuing its own standards for digital TV sets, and now announcing its intent to provide technology that will be incorporated directly into televisions. By placing this technology directly in the television, Microsoft will provide broadcasters the ability to bypass the cable companies and provide interactive services directly, without the need for the set-top box.
Microsoft's digital TV technology faces several significant obstacles:
The technology will not be delivered until Whistler is released, which is not expected to happen until the third quarter of 2001.
It will require an embedded version of Whistler, which Gartner believes will lag the general availability of Whistler by six months. (An embedded version of Windows 2000 has yet to be delivered.)
Whistler is still Windows 2000--which, in turn, is still Windows NT-and has the drawbacks of this line of Microsoft technology, including a large footprint, high complexity, higher licensing cost and an x86-only compatible design.
Adoption requires consumers to replace their TV sets with Windows-enabled sets, a costly and time-consuming process.
Solutions that don't require broadcasters to adopt vendor-specific technology and don't require the replacement of the television will win in the short term. Thus, although Microsoft's announcement is interesting, Gartner believes that the battle to watch over the next several years is the one for the control of the cable set-top box.
(For related commentary on the upgrade from Windows 95 to Windows 2000 Professional, see TechRepublic.com--free registration required.)
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