The Web TV market is still wide open after a hectic weekend that saw the US cable giant Tele-Communications Inc (TCI) announce multimillion dollar deals with both Microsoft and its arch rival Sun Microsystems. Both deals are to supply software for millions of interactive set-top boxes.
In a surprise move last Friday TCI, America?s largest cable provider, revealed that Sun had secured a deal to embed the slimmed-down version of Java, Personal Java, in 12 million set-top boxes - allowing consumers Internet access, email facilities and home shopping through their TVs.
Seen as a snub to Sun?s bitter rival Microsoft - which was rumoured to be on the verge of investing $1 billion dollars in TCI - the move was quickly countered the next day when Microsoft chief Bill Gates also announced a deal with TCI. This is to embed a version of MS' Windows CE operating system for consumer devices in five million set-top boxes.
In this delicate balance of power TCI is committed to using CE in its set-top boxes for the foreseeable future, delivering ?high quality video, sound and interactive services".
The competing software from the two companies will coexist in different layers of the set-top box. It is due to ship by early 1999.
However, the deal is non-exclusive, allowing TCI and software developers to use alternatives to CE from Sun or rival developers.
Both Microsoft and Sun refused to comment on the weekend deals or the fevered speculation on Microsoft?s further financial interests in TCI.
The emerging consensus among IT analysts is that TCI, nervous that Microsoft will monopolise the interactive market, is playing it safe with a multivendor deal. TCI already carries the MSNBC station, owned by Microsoft and NBC. And in such an adolescent market it stands to gain by tailoring different software for diverse systems and networks.
?TCI is endeavouring to form this joint venture with software design and development companies to make set-top boxes more profitable,? observed Tom Eagan, a cable analyst with Wall Street securities house, Paine Webber.
?By not relying on one service provider TCI is aiming to maintain control of the US cable market,? he added.
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