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Microsoft places its bets on cable

The software giant hopes its software can fit the bill for the cable industry which is wary of Windows.

Having placed various bets on the cable industry through investments and acquisitions, Microsoft is now hoping its software can fit the bill for an industry wary of Windows.

The software giant unleashed a multi-pronged strategy today that will allow cable operators and broadband service providers to install various forms of its Windows operating system across client-side set-top boxes through to back-end systems.

Microsoft continues to try and expand its presence in the cable industry, despite calls from various cable executives to minimize the presence of the software giant so the industry does not become a replica of the PC market, where nine out of 10 PCs currently ship with Microsoft software.

Microsoft announced its plans at the Western Cable Show, a California Cable Television Association-sponsored event that is one of the largest gatherings of the cable industry this year.

Elements from the software giant's arsenal that will be included in the offering consist of new software for Windows NT Server, tailored for back-end cable providers, the Microsoft Commercial Internet System, or MCIS, a collection of tools to enable Net-based commerce, technologies and services from the company's WebTV subsidiary, Windows CE set-top software, and its MSN content offerings.

Some of these tools are already well known as options for cable providers, but Microsoft has not positioned its back-end software for the cable industry until now. The company has professed a strategy to target different vertical segments, such as telecommunications or health care, to garner interest in its server-side software offerings, largely driven by its NT operating system.

Use of the breadth of Microsoft's software should come as no surprise. Chief executive Bill Gates has openly expressed a belief that cable will be a key ingredient in providing a myriad of digital services to homes. That affinity was buttressed by last year's $1 billion investment in Comcast, Microsoft's purchase of WebTV for $425 million, and an investment in Road Runner, a cable-based Net access service.

The moves are part of a concerted effort on the part of Gates to use Microsoft's software clout to become a player in alternative markets as various forms of media--such as the television and the PC--converge.

Microsoft has already signed a deal with Tele-Communications Incorporated to provide its CE operating system for cable set-top boxes provided by the cable giant, a gambit that parallels a similar Java-focused deal between TCI and Sun Microsystems.

Separately, Sun Microsystems announced a marketing agreement with interactive digital video specialist Veon today partially based on Sun's Solaris operating system, a version of Unix. The pact is intended for telecommunications firms and broadband service providers that want to support interactive video applications with their services.