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MS to tweak Explorer for WebTVs

Microsoft takes its biggest step toward making its Internet Explorer browser run on devices other than PCs by forming a technology and financial alliance with WebTV.

Taking a page from Netscape Communications' strategy, Microsoft (MSFT) today moved to plant its Internet Explorer browser on devices other than personal computers by taking a stake in Internet set-top box company WebTV.

Microsoft said it will be a minority investor in WebTV but did not disclose the exact amount of the investment. Neither did the company announce its specific plans for remaking Explorer to run on WebTV boxes, but the overall intention is clear.

"Microsoft's relationship with WebTV demonstrates our commitment to adapting Microsoft Internet Explorer to provide consumers access to the Web through a broad range of communications and entertainment devices," David Cole, vice president of the consumer platforms division at Microsoft said.

The deal follows a recent announcement from Netscape, which launched a new company called Navio to tap the emerging market for software to surf the Net from TVs, network computers, and handheld communicators, instead of PCs.

Microsoft's investment in WebTV also comes just as WebTV's product hits store shelves.

WebTV did say that it intends to integrate Internet Explorer technology, adapted for use with set-top boxes and televisions, into a future release of the WebTV browser system.

"The results of combining Microsoft's continual improvements in Web browsing with our technologies should enable millions of consumers to enjoy a high-quality Internet experience through their television sets," said Steve Perlman, chief executive of WebTV.

Microsoft and WebTV also said they will work with standards organizations to promote "accepted extensions to current Internet standards" that will facilitate these new revisions to existing browser technology.

WebTV also announced four other minority investors in its company: Citicorp, VeriFone, Times Mirror, and Lauder Partners.

WebTV's Vice President Bill Keating said the investors later could provide services to bolster the product. For example, Times Mirror could offer content, VeriFone could offer credit card authorization technology for online shopping, and Citicorp could offer online banking, executives said today. No deal, however, has been finalized.