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MS to call shots on PC-TV

Microsoft promises consumers interactive programming, a move that will help expand the company's software empire to every Net TV in the nation.

    Microsoft (MSFT) advanced its vision of a hybrid PC-TV today and promised consumers new interactive programming that can be viewed on computers and television sets before the year is out.

    The company announced plans to ship software development kits next month to software makers, hardware manufacturers, and content providers that will enable development of interactive programming. The programming--which will combine elements of traditional television shows, personal computing, and the Net--will be viewable on big-screen PC monitors and Web-enabled television sets, the software titan said.

    The move is part of Microsoft's Simply Interactive PC initiative, which it launched last spring in the hopes of expanding its software empire to every PC, handheld device, and TV in the nation. The company said the new technology will let consumers use a remote control device to surf TV channels, the Net, and new hybrid content, all from the living room couch.

    "The Simply Interactive PC initiative is designed to make the whole computer system easier to use," Windows product manager Phil Holden said. "It's aimed at the typical consumer, rather than at the average corporate user."

    Holden said development kits to be distributed in February will include Windows software extensions, device drivers, a software library and sample code so that developers can build interactive programs and supporting software and hardware with the goal of reaching market next Christmas season.

    In addition to crossing between the PC- and TV-viewing platforms, the plan is to offer content that marries a traditional broadcast programming approach with the interactive features of the Net. New PC-TV programs will arrive via satellite to the homes of subscribers, who can get accompanying information on the Internet.

    For instance, one of Microsoft's content allies is the TV Food Network. Holden envisions interactive cooking shows, in which the chief will whip up the latest gourmet fare on about three-quarters of the screen while the remainder includes links to the program's Web site, offering viewers an easy way to venture onto the Internet to retrieve recipes and other complementary information.

    Employing both satellite phone connections will keep bandwidth requirements to a minimum and reduce the threat of Internet gridlock, Microsoft said.

    But the new system won't be cheap, at least initially. Holden said Microsoft has targeted the high end of the consumer market. Not counting monthly programming subscription fees, it will cost upwards of $3,000 to get outfitted with a required "entertainment PC," satellite dish, and large TV screen that will make for the best viewing, Holden said.

    The proposal is a popular one. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the company said it has signed up long list of supporters among the ranks of computer hardware and software industry stalwarts, as well as broadcast media. Development kits will be ready next month, and information about the program can be found on Microsoft's Web site.

    Microsoft said the new programming will make money by selling the software, news and entertainment publications, and TV-style programming as subscription services.

    Microsoft's self-proclaimed attempt at creating an "open platform for content creators, data services, and network integration" provides another boost to champions of the hybrid PC-TV concept. At the Consumer Electronics Show this week, several companies including WebTV Networks and Zenith Electronics have announced their own of Net TV plans.

    Among Microsoft's newly announced broadcast media allies, along with the TV Food Network, are the USA Channel and NBC, which is also Microsoft's partner in the MSNBC venture that runs a Web site and a cable TV channel with news and other programming.

    Rockwell Semiconductor Systems' Brooktree Division is also supporting the initiative. The company said today that its multimedia chips will support the Microsoft efforts by displaying TV, video, and graphics content on big-screen TVs.

    VLSI Technology has also announced that it is developing data-encryption software supporting the initiative. The encryption technology will first come to market inside the company's forthcoming GhostRider security chip to provide secure distribution of pay-per-view television, consumer and business software, and complete electronic commerce services.

    WavePhore also lined up behind the Microsoft initiative today. The company specializes in embedding data streams into existing broadcast-television signals. The company plans to "leverage" its partnership with PBS National Datacast to transmit data over the broadcast signals of hundreds of PBS member stations nationwide.