Microsoft's persistent product delays are generally a problem only for the company, though one might also argue that any delay that increases a product's reliability and stability is probably a good thing. I'm not sure that's how European cable giant United Pan-European Communications Corporation (UPC) is seeing things however, as this weekend Microsoft admitted that it would miss its September release date for the software that will drive UPC's new set-top boxes. This leaves UPC in an embarrassing position, as it will now be forced to ship the boxes with nothing but the barest functionality.
The set-top boxes that UPC will ship are dubbed "set-top computers" by the company. They sport cable modems for broadband Internet access and support for interactive television. UPC will make Microsoft's software available via download whenever it becomes ready, the company said this weekend. "The set-top computer is software upgradeable to accommodate new interactive services that will evolve," the company said in a statement. "These can be downloaded to subscribers without having a person/technician go to a home to change the box."
"\[UPC\] could roll out the box with non-Microsoft software and then upgrade to Microsoft software once it is released," said Microsoft TV platform director Ed Graczyk, noting that the decision was up to UPC. "We are not going to trade off schedule for quality." If only the entire company operated on this principle.
Microsoft has been working on interactive TV projects since the mid-1990's, when its NT-based Tiger project commenced. Current generation products, however, run on Windows CE, which has found little acceptance in the handheld market. Microsoft, which owns 8% of UPC, says that many other companies in Europe and the United States, including AT&T, plan to use its software in high-speed Internet-enabled set-top boxes. UPC's set-top computer is described as "very advanced," with much of the functionality of a real PC