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Microsoft uses Internet as giant remote control

Forget to program your Media Center PC to record your favorite show? Now you can do it over the Net.

Microsoft has pressed play on a feature that lets people use the Internet to program their Media Center PCs remotely.

MSN Remote Record, as the option has been dubbed, allows customers running the latest version of Media Center to schedule recordings via any Web-connected computer.

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That means, for example, that if someone got to work and realized he or she had forgotten to set the computer to record "The West Wing," that person could program the recording over the Net rather than having to dash home at lunch.

Last month, when it announced Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, the latest iteration of its entertainment-oriented operating system, Microsoft had said it would offer such a feature.

For now, the feature is in a beta, or test, phase. Customers have to register at Microsoft's BetaPlace Web site to get the software. A final version is expected in early 2005, according to the company.

Rival TiVo already offers a similar feature via its Web site. For a customer who has a TiVo connected to a broadband Internet connection, the message to record is sent within a few minutes. For machines connected via dial-up, it can take up to 24 hours.

"It is the most popular feature on our Web site, and it is growing every week," said TiVo spokeswoman Kathryn Kelly. Kelly said the company has not released specific numbers on how many people use the service.

With MSN Remote Record, requests to record a show can be sent anytime before the show ends (although only the part after a request is made will be recorded). Requests are usually received by the PC within a few seconds, according to the company. If for some reason there is a delay--for example, if the computer is turned off--Remote Record will resend the request every 15 minutes for 24 hours or until the show ends, whichever comes first.

The new tool works only with PCs running Media Center 2005, and it is available only in the United States and Canada.