Microsoft Rolls Up New Windows for Cars

Microsoft has finally returned to the "connected car" arena with a new version of its operating system focusing on tasks such as navigation and entertainment. Now the company says it has partners to bring Windows to the windshield.

Microsoft is preparing to launch the next version of its Windows Automotive platform on March 26.

Microsoft will take the wraps off its new system at the Microsoft Automotive Executive Summit in Dearborn, Mich., company officials say. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will likely handle the unveiling honors.

Microsoft is expected to follow up with similar launches in Europe and Asia during the third week in April.

Windows Automotive is not designed to power cars. Instead, it controls less mission-critical functions, like navigation, on-board e-mail, audio/visual entertainment and the like.

Microsoft has deals with seven auto manufacturers, plus a few after-market companies who build sub-systems such as deluxe car entertainment systems, to embed Windows Automotive.

Windows Automotive is a platform that has undergone a couple of name changes since Microsoft first launched it in 1998. (It originally was known as "AutoPC," and later as "CE for Automotive.) The platform is the base upon which Microsoft is building its complete "Connected Car" strategy.

More on Redmonds Connected Car Initiative

At the heart of Windows Automotive is Microsofts Windows CE .Net operating system. Redmond is putting the final touches on the 4.2 version of CE .Net, which is code-named "McKendric." Microsoft released a beta of McKendric in October to embedded developers. The final CE .Net 4.2 release is expected in late March or early April, according to Peter Wengert, marketing manager for Microsofts automotive business unit. Shortly thereafter, the updated Windows Automotive platform based on 4.2 should be ready to roll, Wengert says.

Check Out "McKendric, McCallan Releases On Tap"

The first cars incorporating the new 4.2 features wont hit the market for another year or two, Wengert acknowledges. But after-market device makers could begin marketing systems that include the new functionality almost immediately, he says.

What are the key 4.2 advances of interest to the auto industry? Bluetooth support will be included in the base CE .Net operating system, which will be useful to those who want to use their cell phones hands-free in the car, Wengert says.

The 4.2 upgrade also will be enabled to support data and voice profiles. And it will add a version of the .Net Compact Framework to the base OS platform, which should make it easier for developers to write Web services for the car, as they will be able to target embedded devices directly, rather than recompile their code to run on an embedded platform.

Web services for cars? Think along the lines of .Net Alerts. Some of these services exist already, such as MapPoint .Net, which allows users to access maps in their dashboard displays. But Microsoft partners are working on other possibilities, such as services that will allow users to check traffic, weather, gas prices and restaurant menus from the privacy of their own vehicles. In Japan, theres even demand for in-car karoke systems, Wengert says.

Microsoft unveiled one such service late last month — a gas-price-checking applet. The applet is one of a handful that Microsoft quietly is offering for free as part of its MSN Autos "My Car" service.

Check Out the "My Car" Services Here

Besides being able to search for the cheapest local gas prices, My Car users also can get real-time traffic reports, search for car parts and accessories, and book auto-service appointments. (In order to access these MSN Autos services, users need to log into Microsofts Passport Internet authentication service.)

"Our platform that we will be launching soon, Windows Automotive, is an excellent platform to receive some of these web services," says Wengert.