Media & Technology

Spreading the Word: Microsoft moves from the Internet (above) to digital TV

I want my WebTV

Digital TV is just around the corner, and Rupert Murdoch is the man with his hands on the little black box that will make it tick? But, as Bill Gates has discovered, the race is far from won.

Words: John Henderson

The recent announcement that B'l‘ and BSkyB have joined forces to deliver digital satellite television and home shopping to millions of homes confirms that we are well on the way to a tclevisual revolution. The new company formed to market the service. British Interactive Broadcasting. will sell subsidised set-top

boxes for around £200 and offer tip to 2()() channels of

broadcasting and inlormation. Companies already involved on the home shopping side include Sainshury. llMV. Thomas (‘ook and Great Universal stores. If everything goes according to plan. the service should be up and running next spring.

The move has caused concern among cable TV companies. who are planning their own digital

. network. ()ne critic of the new alliance has already 5 accused BT and BSkyB of wanting to become ‘the

gatekeepers to the new digital world‘. This is an accusation often levelled at Microsoft. and considering that the set-top boxes will also provide access to the lnternet. BIB might at first seem to he a major competitor for the Seattle based software giant.

Microsoft. however. is not resting on its laurcls. Last month. it spent hall a billion dollars on the

purchase of Weh'l‘V. an American manufacturer of

Internet set-top boxes for traditional televisions.

’We will have a standard for TV, an open technology, which we will evangelise.’

David Weekes, Microsoft

According to David Weekes. a Windows product manager. Microsoft does not actually intend to develop hardware. Instead. they hope to create a standard operating system for set-top boxes around the world. hi the same way that Windows has become the standard system software for personal computers. Microsoft must hope that all digital TV will eventually be accessed through their software.

‘We will have a standard for TV. an open technology. which we will evangelise.‘ says Weekes.

although he admits it is only in the early stages of


Willi the launch of BlB imminent. it might appear that Microsoft has missed the digital TV boat. But it must be remembered that the company never just sits on the sidelines. lt created Windows after seeing what Apple had done. and its expertise lies exactly in the evangelising of standards that Weekes talks about. Digital TV is certainly a tempting market place for the software company. Even in America. which boasts more PCs per household than anywhere else in the world. TV reaches four times as many people. .‘vlicrosoft hopes to use the familarity of TV to introduce more people to the lnternet. ‘People are used to using TV. and it will take the fear away from new technology.‘ argues Weekes.

Graham Lovelace. editorial director of Teletext. a service which TV Web access would pose a threat to. sees Microsoft‘s move as significant. ‘Microsoft is admitting that the way into the home is through the TV. and not a PC.‘ he has said. Weekes casually sums up Microsoft‘s policy as ‘information at your fingertips'. and the TV remote control is indeed where most people‘s fingertips come to rest. A move into the world of broadcasting is a logical step for Bill Gates‘s company.

Whether the standard that Microsoft comes tip with becomes universally accepted remains to be seen. One of its biggest advantages is. as Weekes is keen to point out. a research and development budget that few other companies can hope to match. Should Microsoft pull it off and establish Web TV. the ramifications could be enormous.

Lowdown Games 0 Web Sites 0 CD ROMS

CD-ROM BMA Family Health


(PC £39.99)

Calling all hypochondriacs throw out those old medical dictionaries and indulge in some computer assisted self- diagnosis. This latest release from CD- ROM giants Dorling Kindersley is supposed to reduce waiting room queues, but as it's so enjoyable to use, it could well do the opposite. Divided into five sections with an additional online health club link, there is advice on everything from accidents to general care. Well designed and easy to use, the Encyclopaedia has comprehensive search and diagnosis facilities, and you’re guaranteed to have found something wrong with yourself within the first hour of use.


( AdHunter is the cyberspace equivalent of the motoring section of Exchange And Mart. Run by a consortium of regional newspapers, it makes tracking down your second—hand dream machine considerably less painful than poring over the classifieds To help you choose a particular model, there are comprehensive road test reports, price lists, and insurance guides. Then all you need to do is to enter the details, and AdHunter will come up with the goods. Bikes, caravans, boats and commercial vehicles are also catered for. AdHunter is one of those simple, solid Web sites that could actually prove useful.


Dark Forces (PlayStation £39.99) Dark Forces has at last been converted from the PC, and arrives just a little too late to cash in on the hype surrounding the re-release of the Star Wars trilogy. Never mind, it does offer a completely fresh plot involving the Rebel discovery of the Empire's new Dark Troopers. Unfortunately there are no light sabres, but there's plenty of Stormtrooper killing to be done in the Doom-style 30 enwronment. Refreshingly, some thought is occasionally required between blasts, and although the format isn’t original, anyone who enjoys the films will find Dark Forces hard to resist. Dark Forces: you've seen the movie etc, etc, so now play the game


16—29 May 1997 iii: usr 93