Tech Talk

May 4, 1998

May 11, 1998

May 22, 1998


Tech Week

Microsoft and General Instrument last week introduced an improved version of WebTV running on GI's newest Internet set-top boxes. Both companies are all but calling the product the "next big thing" in a market that has seen more than its share of big things. The new service, which uses Microsoft's Windows CE, is not Microsoft's first foray into the set-top market. In addition to buying start-up company WebTV last year, the company has hammered out agreements with manufacturers all over the world to make Windows CE the set-top software of choice. The new product, however, will be the first featuring the CE based version of WebTV running on a digital cable modem. Since the highly anticipated introduction 18 months ago, sales of set-top Internet devices have been, for the most part, disappointing. Many companies, high on the idea of marrying the Internet to television, never reached profitability. NetChannel, with a subscriber base of 10,000 and WebTV's biggest competitor, folded in April. But that hasn't stopped others from trying, or trying again. Microsoft is the case in point. Based on recent announcements by Bill Gates, Microsoft has decided that the product itself is sound, but limitations -- stemming from the fact that most of WebTV's content is downloaded over a standard phone line -- have rendered it little more than an imitation Web browser. But WebTV via cable promises to be a whole different animal. Subscribers will have access to fast-loading electronic programming guides and video on demand. It's a great idea, provided you live in an area that offers either cable or digital-subscriber-line telephone service. Otherwise, it isn't going to make much of a difference. Still, the move is important for Microsoft, analysts say. If the software giant wants to stake a claim in the next generation of Internet devices, then getting Windows CE into as many of those devices as possible is key. General Instruments is the largest manufacturers of such devices in the nation. And it can't hurt that cable providers around the country are standing in line to buy the new devices. Microsoft already has penned an agreement with cable giant TCI to provide more than 5 million set-top boxes over the next five years. Other cable operators have announced intent to buy another 10 million. Deals like these, combined with Microsoft's momentum in the Internet market, may in the end bring as many as 15 million new users into the Microsoft fold


May 4, 1998

May 11, 1998

May 22, 1998