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Microsoft presses pedal on in-car software

Windows Automotive 5.0 is aimed at making it easier for automotive gear makers to design easy-to-use interfaces.

Microsoft on Tuesday cranked up its long-running effort to get its software inside cars, announcing a new version of its Windows Automotive software.

At a company-sponsored conference in Japan, Microsoft announced that it has finished development of Windows Automotive 5.0. The update is based on the latest version of Windows CE, the CE 5.0 release that came out in May.

The new version of the software is aimed at making it easier for automotive gear makers to design easy-to-use interfaces. It also contains support for expanded virtual memory. The added memory could help features such as speech recognition and improved 3D graphics, a Microsoft representative said.

Though Microsoft announced the completion of the new car OS, it did not name customers for it. A Microsoft representative said the company expects Windows Automotive to show up on aftermarket products in the fall. Because the design cycle for new cars is much longer, models with Windows Automotive 5.0 built in are not expected until at least next year.

Microsoft has been trying to break in to the car market since it released an initial in-car OS in 1998. In a July 2003 speech, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates predicted that within three years, about 30 percent of cars would have Windows CE running in them. The company has talked up the efforts at both Detroit car shows and tech-oriented events, such as the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Microsoft does have its software in a number of vehicles, including the 2005 Acura RL and TL, 2004 Mercedes S-Class, BMW's 7 Series, Fiat's Lancia Thesis and the 2003 and 2004 Honda Accord, among other models. It is also included in aftermarket products from Clarion, Hyundai and Nextech.