Microsoft Launches Car .Net Dashboard OS

The undisputed king of desktop applications wants a second shot at the title for dashboard applications.

At the Convergence 2000 automotive show here this week, Microsoft launched Car .Net, a retooled version of its Windows CE operating system for automobiles. Analysts said Car .Net builds upon Microsoft's failed - but long-term - investments in developing a device platform for cars.

Microsoft introduced the Auto PC, a speech-recognition device, nearly three years ago. But the dashboard device never gained popularity with motorists due to a "horrid" implementation, said Rob Enderle, an analyst at Giga Information Group Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.

Microsoft has deals in place with Clarion Co. in Tokyo, Bosch Corp. in Germany and Denso Corp. in Japan to build and ship telematic (in-vehicle communication) devices.

The devices will deliver news, navigation and traffic updates to the dashboard. They won't be available to consumers from automotive suppliers until next year, officials said.

Car .Net is the rebranded version of Windows CE Version 3.0. Microsoft said the upgraded operating system includes better support for XML, wireless access and a critical-process monitor to protect the system from viruses. But additional changes, to link Car .Net to the broader Microsoft .Net platform, won't be available until Version 4.0.

That forthcoming version will include support for C# and Common Language Runtime. With these changes, developers will be able to write Car .Net applications with Visual Studio .Net tools, said Bruce Johnson, telematics group manager at Microsoft.

"It's easier to have one tool kit do all your development from, and in the long term, it could be faster, if it's done right," said Ian Colomby, software engineer at The Bulldog Group, a development firm in Toronto.

Microsoft will face competition from rival Sun Microsystems Inc., which also entered the telematics ring last week. Sun Chairman and CEO Scott McNealy delivered the opening keynote at Convergence 2000, urging suppliers to make heavy investments in telematics and transform vehicles into a "Java browser with tires."

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