Microsoft aims small for CE, plans WebTV in Europe in '98

With Microsoft's Windows CE already set to be the operating system for WebTV -- the set-top box which the company plans to finally bring to Europe in 1998 with pilots in the UK, Germany and France -- Windows CE will also be shrunk for small devices, similar to the US Robotics Palm Pilot. Microsoft's plans to launch WebTV in the three countries depending on the company's ability to find partners to provide content and services including access and billing.

With Microsoft's Windows CE already set to be the operating system for WebTV -- the set-top box which the company plans to finally bring to Europe in 1998 with pilots in the UK, Germany and France -- Windows CE will also be shrunk for small devices, according to company representatives at a briefing here.

"We want to put Windows CE in a maximum number of non-PCs over the next few years," said Georges Nahon, Internet and Communications Manager at Microsoft Europe.

In the short term, Microsoft is looking to reduce the Windows CE user interface to fit a machine about the size of a US Robotics PalmPilot, according to Bob O'Hara, development manager with Microsoft's US Mobile Electronic Platform group, who is focusing on bringing the Windows CE operating system to as small a machine as possible. The company will also bring the operating system to embedded devices during the next two years.

In the meantime Windows CE's home is still pretty much on handheld PCs and soon WebTVs, which should debut in the UK, Germany or France from the middle of next year. Microsoft's plans to launch WebTV in the three countries depending on the company's ability to find partners to provide content and services including access and billing.

WebTV will not be hitting virgin turf in Europe. Already in France a number of companies such as NetGem SA, Com1 SA and Multimedia Network Computer SA (MNC) have either launched set-top boxes for accessing the Internet via TV or plan to before the end of the year.

Still, the company stressed what it sees as the importance of synergy between PCs, TVs and the Internet. And, while estimating that by the year 2000, 40 million PCs will be compatible with Digital TV, Microsoft sees no conflict emerging between PCs and TVs as they become better equipped to perform each others' tasks, said Nahon.

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