According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Microsoft will announce this week a version of Whistler, the next version of Windows 2000, which will be designed specifically for Interactive TV devices, such as set-top boxes and digital televisions. The software--called Microsoft TV--currently runs only on Windows CE, and it is this version of the software that has gotten Microsoft into trouble recently with cable companies such as AT&T and UPC. But Whistler isn't due until late 2001 at the earliest, so it's unlikely that the first generation of Interactive TV devices can wait for its released. Microsoft believes the porting effort to be worthwhile, however, because Whistler will open up the market for Interactive TV, as developers are more familiar with its NT-based programming model.
"Set-top boxes are growing to be more like PCs," says Microsoft TV director Ed Graczyk, a sobering thought for the billions of people that can manipulate a remote control but wouldn't know how to power on or use a PC. Microsoft's plans include using Interactive TV devices as the hubs of home networks, as they will already be connected to the outside world with high-speed data pipes. And if a secure, stable and powerful OS such as Whistler power these devices, they could server dual duty as Internet gateway and connection sharing devices as well. Obviously, this contrasts dramatically with plans by competitors such as OpenTV, which see Interactive TV simply as better TV. One might compare the different plans to comparable strategies in the palm-sized and handheld PC market, where Microsoft's more complicated offering, the Windows CE-based PocketPC, is being trounced by the simpler and less feature-pack Palm OS devices. "They are not part of the TV industry," Therese Torris, director of European Internet commerce at Forrester Research in Amsterdam told the Wall Street Journal, indirectly explaining Microsoft's inability to grasp the needs of consumer-oriented non-PC markets