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Microsoft announces vaporware

In 1993, Microsoft began chasing what the NYT would call a “white whale” in 1999: a Windows-based cable TV set-top box.

Had it been more than a teaser announcement, a joint venture between Microsoft and two cable companies might have put Microsoft at the center of today’s family room.

On 13 June 1993, the New York Times reported that Microsoft, Time Warner and Tele-Communications Inc. (TCI) were on the cusp of a joint venture. The goal: “combine the worlds of computing and television and perhaps shape how much of popular culture is delivered.”

From Variety:

For consumers, there is the on-screen menu that sends commands from the home to the cable operator, such as a movie selection or the ordering of a sweater from a home shopping channel…

The latest venture comes just weeks after TCI and TW announced they were banding together to promote standards for this new market (Daily Variety, June 4 ).

The Seattle Times would report in October that “a venture dubbed Cablesoft with TCI and Time Warner, [has] failed to jell.”

Five years later, Microsoft and TCI entered a licensing arrangement according to a 11 January 1998 announcement. Microsoft would license a consumer version of the Windows operating system to TCI to “control a future generation of at least 5 million set-top boxes.” The prior day, TCI had announced a deal to license the Java programming language from Sun Microsystems for “delivering programming content to cable viewers.”

Also at the time:

Microsoft is now locked in a legal fight with the Justice Department over the company’s effort to bundle its Internet Explorer, a World Wide Web browser, with its Windows 95 operating system. The Justice Department has charged that the software publisher is using its dominant power in the personal computer industry to leverage its way into a similar position in the expanding Internet market.

The following year, again from the New York Times:

[Bill] Gates’ white whale remains an elusive digital set-top cable box that his company, Microsoft Corp., is hoping will re-create the personal computer industry by blending the PC, the Internet and the television set into a leviathan living-room entertainment and information machine.

By 2015, Gizmodo lamented that Microsoft was ditching Windows Media Center, its cable box ‘killer.’

It was not a surprise, because almost no one uses Windows Media Center (it was only available as a paid add-on in Windows 8). But it is a shame, because Windows Media Center might be the best DVR software out there. And it should’ve killed the cable box.

Today, 20+ years after that initial vaporware announcement, the living room entertainment center is shifting back to antennas as consumers use streaming services to cut the cable cord.

#scitech, computing  (143/365)
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Daily posts, 2022-2023

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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