October 21, 2004 4:00 AM PDT

Car crazy: Microsoft in the driver's seat

DETROIT--Microsoft wants your next car or SUV to run Windows.

It's no joke. The world's largest software company is revving up to position itself as the largest supplier of software to car manufacturers, with a custom version of Windows CE controlling everything from in-vehicle entertainment to satellite navigation.

"We're providing the end-to-end telematic system," says Peter Wengert, an electrical engineer who is now a marketing manager for Microsoft's Automotive Business Unit. Telematics is the auto industry's term for networked cars.

Microsoft is racing to take advantage of what appears to be an inexorable trend toward smarter cars. General Motors says software and electronics already are responsible for more than one-third of the cost of a typical automobile, and an IBM executive predicted this week that the figure will be closer to 90 percent in five years.

Implanting Windows into automobiles makes sense for a company whose share price has been mostly stagnant for four years. While PC sales have slowed and are expected to enjoy future growth rates only in the single digits, in-car computing remains a young market. Also, Linux has become a real threat to Microsoft on desktops and servers--but it's not as established in the automotive arena.

News.context

What's new:
Microsoft wants to provide the software systems for ever more complex and entertaining automobiles.

Bottom line:
Microsoft isn't the only one. A lot of suitors are lining up with entertainment systems and such, hoping to turn tomorrow's cars into GPS-tracked living rooms on wheels.

More on in-car technology

The giant comes a-courtin'
Microsoft accelerated its efforts to woo car makers with one of the largest booths at a Detroit conference this week, where a Hummer H2 and a Volvo--both outfitted with versions of Windows Automotive--drew curious crowds. Windows Automotive is based on Windows CE, which has also spawned spinoffs for handheld computers and mobile phones, and offers licensing fees between $3 and "under $100."

Inside the Hummer were microphones and speakers connected to a Windows box (typically a 300-400 MHz PC with 32MB of RAM and 32MB of flash memory) hidden under the back seat and outfitted with a GPS receiver and Bluetooth wireless technology. The idea is that drivers will use their own Bluetooth-equipped cell phones and existing wireless provider to link up to the Internet, especially MSN services that can provide road-related information on demand.

"When I say, 'Get my driving directions,' I can say 'Get my cheapest gas,'" Wengert said. "It finds the nearest gas station and the cheapest gas station because it knows the location of the car." Wengert also demonstrated how the in-car speakers could be used to make phone calls, but with less luck: it took him four tries before the computer got the phone number right.

Windows Automotive, by the way, does not share a network with the low-level systems of a vehicle--so a software crash won't result in, say, brake failure.

Microsoft's entry into the automotive market isn't exactly new. Since 1998, the company has been selling Windows-based navigation systems that show overhead maps on LCD screens in the dashboard. Some two dozen models from 10 car makers use that relatively expensive technology, Microsoft says.

Making the LCD screen optional, however, makes the system cheaper and reduces worries about distracting drivers. Starting with its 2005 models that go on sale in a few months, Fiat will offer Microsoft's hands-free technology as an option on 23 models. (Fiat sells cars under the Fiat, Lancia, Alfa Romeo and Ferrari brands.)

67 comments

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Distracted Hummer Drivers
This is the last vehicle that needs another device that will distract the driver. I am sure lawyers are salivating at the thought of suing Microsoft, IBM and GM when people start getting runover by a Hummer driver fooling around with their Automobile PC while driving.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
For the life of me
I cannot figure out why any car manufacturer would think that putting MS software in their vehicles would be a good idea. Please, please, please don't do this to us!
Posted by unixrules (21 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Look on the bright side.
Maybe this will encourage people to use mass transit, bicycles
and other environmentally responsible forms of transportation.
Posted by (33 comments )
Link Flag
Another example . . .
that shows how out-of-touch Microsoft is. No one want's the
Internet on a watch, no one wants to read their e-mails on the
TV, and no one wants a PC in their car. Period.

MS Windows in a car opens up the possibility of your navigation
system getting hacked, directing you to the nearest Exxon
station, where your smart card "SpeedPass" charges your credit
card for a tankful of premium, and a case of Mountain Dew for
the script kiddie behind the counter. Great. No thank you, M$.
Posted by broman07 (10 comments )
Reply Link Flag
speaking of "out of touch" ....
Where have you been?
NOBODY wants a PC in their car?
Wow... you need to get out more. Tons of people are installing PCs with touch-screens, X-Boxes, playstations, WiFi and lots of other technology in their cars.

Far as I'm concerned, its a great idea. Why does my car have one system linked to a satellite communication system that I have to pay for... another system linked to bar-code scanners, another system receiving FM transmissions, another system for handling GPS and navigation, another system playing my MP3s, another system running DVD videos for the kids in the back seat, another system driving an aftermarket speaker setup, another system....

...you get the point. And notice that I haven't listed one critical automobile "drive" system. With so much redundand junk sold in every car, one computer with the ability to manage all of these things would not only significantly reduce production costs, but would also open a huge number of new possibilities.

Amazing how people become so "anti-technology" when the provider is Microsoft. I for one, am glad that Microsoft's board contains representation from BMW. I can't wait to see the latest and greatest computer-driven features as they emerge in the automobile marketplace.
Posted by David Arbogast (1709 comments )
Link Flag
Spyware and hackers in the car!
Just what we need!

Dealers would love it, just imagine the add ons they could sell
with a car now: Virus software, pop-up blockers, ...etc.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Stupidity Bar Has Been Raised!
The idea of software in vehicles is not a new, nor stupid idea.
The idea that it would be a Microsoft OS is the stupid idea. I
cannot get past, nor comprehend, the inexplicable logic that
could lead anyone to come to the conclusion to use software
from a company that has nothing but a long history of
instability.

Get off the crack pipe people.
Posted by Thomas, David (1947 comments )
Reply Link Flag
reality is somewhat different...
The BMW 7 series seems to be doing very well...
And the Fiat Lancia Thesis seems promising...

So far, their implementation of Microsoft software don't reflect your opinion of "stupidest idea ever."
Posted by David Arbogast (1709 comments )
Link Flag
I can see it now...
Car: "Attention passengers. The Windows operating system of this car has crashed. You will follow shortly. Thank you for choosing Microsoft."

I don't think so. Besides crashes do we have to fear everyone we drive by with a notebook computer or PDA because the care has so many security holes we could be care jacked?

Do we really want to take our cars in every week or even once a month for patches to be installed?

I don't think so.

Robert
Posted by (336 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Oh hell NO!! Not in my lifetime.
I'll get a car with MS inside the day I purchase a Hummer. Translation. Not in this lifetime fool.
Thank but I'll leave the monthly patches to my desktop. I want a proprietary close system for my car something that:
1. Won't have security that any 2 bit script kiddy or hacker might know about.
2. Isn't well documented on the net so some smuck can easily figure out how to hack my system. E.G. Hacking the BT stack so they can mess around with my car's settings.
3. Thanks but I'd rather not have to do soft rests for my car's computer system (even if it isn't tied to the cars critical computer systems.)

I can honestly say that having a Microsoft OS in a car would actually shy me away from purchasing a car from that manufacturer.
Posted by Jonathan (832 comments )
Reply Link Flag
If your car runs windoze ...
1 For no reason whatsoever, your car would crash twice a day.

2 Every time they repainted the lines in the road, you would have to buy a new car.

3 Occasionally your car would die on the freeway for no reason. You would have to pull over to the side of the road, close all of the windows, shut off the car, restart it, and reopen the windows before you could continue. For some reason you would simply accept this.

4 Occasionally, executing a maneuver such as a left turn would cause your car to shut down and refuse to restart, in which case you would have to reinstall the engine.

5 Only one person at a time could use the car unless you bought "CarNT," but then you would have to buy more seats.

6 Macintosh would make a car that was powered by the sun, was reliable, five times as fast and twice as easy to drive- but would run on only five percent of the roads.

7 The oil, water temperature, and alternator warning lights would all be replaced by a single "General Protection Fault" warning light.

8 New seats would force everyone to have the same sized butt.

9 The airbag system would ask "are you sure" before deploying.

10 Occasionally for no reason whatsoever, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key and grabbed hold of the radio antenna.

11 GM would require all car buyers to also purchase a deluxe set of Rand McNally road maps (now a GM subsidiary), even though they neither need nor want them. Attempting to delete this option would immediately cause the car's performance to diminish by 50% or more. Moreover, GM would become a target for investigation by the Justice Dept.

12 Every time GM introduced a new car, car buyers would have to learn to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old car.

13 You'd have to press the "Start" button to turn the engine off.

Source: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.eccentrix.com/members/computeaser/" target="_newWindow">http://www.eccentrix.com/members/computeaser/</a>
Posted by (1 comment )
Link Flag
Blue Screen Of Auto-Death
Windoze in your car?
Do we really need the blue screen of death while we are driving
our car?
An OS so stupid that you have to click START to turn OFF your
computer, but smart enough to be in your car?
Virus riddled software that may cripple your transportation...
Is Big Brother Bill keeping track of where we are driving to now
with GPS-MS-MAP Search?
Is there no place on God's Earth that Citizen Gates &#38; his brown
booted Softies can shove their Longhorn up our collective black
holes?
Bill the Borg: Resistance is futile, you will be assimulated.
-Eyes wide open in Seattle-
Posted by (71 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Automotive Linux
Dashwerks, Inc. (<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.dashwerks.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.dashwerks.com</a>) specializes in Automotive Linux. One can't help but think that the open-source nature of Linux and it's rock solid stability are much better suited for Automobiles than Microsoft.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
oh please
yeah right. "Rock solid stability" my eye. Sorry... I know everybody but me posting in this thread is a blind anti-Microsoft fanatic, but lets be realistic. Linux is NOT "Rock Solid."
Posted by David Arbogast (1709 comments )
Link Flag
Only if you are stupid
Anyone who uses a MS product in a mission critical enviroment is just asking to get burned.

Yes, Linux is far, far more stable then windows xp.
Posted by (242 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You are so lost...
1. There is no competing Linux-based product in this market. It's proported "superiority" is a complete non-issue.

2. Microsoft OS has never been put in charge of "critical" automobile functions. Again, you demonstrate a lack of understanding of the topic at hand.
Posted by David Arbogast (1709 comments )
Link Flag
I will NEVER EVER buy a car with Windows software
I would rather fling myself bodily over a cliff and take my
chances than ever even ENTER a car with Windows running in it
-- even for "entertainment" purposes!

This is absolutely the worst idea ever propagated.
Posted by Kilohoku (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hahaha! This is ludicrous!
Microsoft should transform its company into a circus since
it seems that the best thing they can do is make ridiculous
decisions and make people laugh at them. Quickly,
someone pass the clown suits to the MS executives! Don't
they look just adorable? Haha!

If they can't get it right on a computer - after how many
years - would you trust this company to insert its
handicapped software on your vehicle? Hey, we are talking
about your safety and that of your loved ones! Yup, you can
replace a computer, but can you replace a life? I don't think
so!

If this occurs, the number one cause of death in the USA will
be Microsoft.

MS is like a virus...it attempts to spread itself everywhere
and destroys all things it touches.
Posted by (27 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Java enabled cars
There are allready cars that are Java enabled.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://java.sun.com/features/2000/08/ford.html" target="_newWindow">http://java.sun.com/features/2000/08/ford.html</a>
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You can't blame them for not noticing.
Nobody seems to notice technologies when they work well. They
only get your attention when they fail, and that doesn't happen
very often with embedded Java.
Posted by (33 comments )
Link Flag
no, there are not.
Those are prototypes, not in production. This may represent future competition for Microsoft's product, but for now, Java is a non-player in this market.
Posted by David Arbogast (1709 comments )
Link Flag
A new way to crash Windows!
It's no wonder they're not integrating it into the car's main electronics! :o)

Yeah, this is what we need - more distracted drivers playing with more gadgets in the car, tying up traffic with their inattentive driving and causing accidents. Every day I see people who can't even handle talking on a cell phone, keeping the speed limit (usually go too slow), and staying in their lane!
Posted by robbtuck (132 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Oh but it gets better
Microsoft has designed and is implementing a system to run the dashboard off of the windows based PC as well as the entertainment and communications systems.

Its an LCD screen that gives engine lights, odometer, tachometer, speedometer, etc instead of the traditional mechanical dials.

Yeah lets drive blind when the screen turns blue with a cryptic error message (Microsoft tech support: "Just pull over and reboot your car").

Lovely
Posted by Fray9 (547 comments )
Link Flag
Get The Facts Straight, please
As someone who works in this industry (automotive) and in Telematics specifically..this story seems to be a disappointing ms-induced media-hype to promote their desire to enter into automotive. MS is indeed pushing hard to get into automotive, but their penetration has been very, very limited. Most of the things you mention in the story are/were demo projects that mean very little unless they go into production. There are many other players in this industry who have a stronghold and most automotive companies are not all that excited about MS in the vehicle. There are also alternative operating systems -- not only Linux, but there are a number of other RTOS selections that are more attractive than CE -- and have existed in the vehicles since Telematics began. Quite frankly, the claim from the MS guy that Ford will be lost w/o support if they chose Linux is simply FUD. If an automotive company chooses open source software like that, they do so through a company that takes the responsibility for the support of the product such as IBM or any one of the other numerous real-time linux vendors. The only real, significant entry MS has now into automotive is with Fiat -- which is an Italian car company with little volume -- and they are struggling significantly. Also one of the solutions MS put together for BMW required 3 CPUs ! Talk about cost -- anytime you can save a dollar on a vehicle that is a big deal -- and a 3 CPU solution is not only expensive, it is poor design. The comment on Java being dead is dead wrong, as well.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Thank you
Finally someone who isnt on the MS payroll, knows whats going on and has some common sense.

Thank you for setting this matter straight.
Posted by Fray9 (547 comments )
Link Flag
Too Slow Joe Blow...?
Fact is that Apple has been envolved for many years (ahead of
MS) in voice recognition software, OS control, so this is only NEW
to MSOS. Audio &#38; DVD? Apple was once again WAY ahead of MS
in integration of CD-Roms &#38; DVD+R integration &#38; software. Plus
Apple has been involved in the nusic business for decades which
is why the Mac,iTunes+iPod is so successful in music &#38; why MS
is scrambling to catch up.
Get the facts JOE before you start to BLOW.
-Eyes wide open in Seattle-
Posted by (71 comments )
Reply Link Flag
All this blathering
Running any Microsoft software on a large ferrous device with a propulsion system is not a wise idea. Take note, the United States Navy, our Navy had a ship that ran Windows ship wide controlling all of the systems on board. This ship was often towed in from the sea as a result of the system crashing, is this something we want to happen in the middle of rush hour in your metropolis. I'm not sure the parents of this country would feel entirely confident of an operating system with this reputation and reliability dealing with the safety and security of thier sons and daughters.
One needs to get thier act together before going on the road.
My old Ford is reliable enough without computers.
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
microsoft supplying software for cars?
When i told my son that microsoft wants to provide the car industry most of their software he said "the last thing I need is for my car to crash!
Posted by maidensolo (26 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Automotive Linux Reaches "Tipping Point"
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://blogs.windriver.com/bruggeman/2006/10/linux_and_autom.html" target="_newWindow">http://blogs.windriver.com/bruggeman/2006/10/linux_and_autom.html</a>

John Bruggeman talks about the "tipping" point happening now for Linux in the Automotive Industry. Check it out:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://blogs.windriver.com/bruggeman/2006/10/linux_and_autom.html" target="_newWindow">http://blogs.windriver.com/bruggeman/2006/10/linux_and_autom.html</a>
Posted by robcarroll (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Automotive Linux Reaches
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://blogs.windriver.com/bruggeman/2006/10/linux_and_autom.html" target="_newWindow">http://blogs.windriver.com/bruggeman/2006/10/linux_and_autom.html</a>

John Bruggeman talks about the "tipping" point happening now for Linux in the Automotive Industry. Check it out:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://blogs.windriver.com/bruggeman/2006/10/linux_and_autom.html" target="_newWindow">http://blogs.windriver.com/bruggeman/2006/10/linux_and_autom.html</a>
Posted by robcarroll (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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