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Microsoft's UK cable ‘ally’ joins rival camp via Liberate

'Tell me again Greg - why was it we spent $3bn on Telewest stock?'

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UK cable operator Telewest Communications has executed a bizarre volte face, apparently hopping straight from the arms of Microsoft into those of Liberate Technologies. Telewest will now be using Liberate's TV Platform for the deployment of interactive TV services to its customers. Liberate is of course the company formerly known as NCI, Oracle's NCI, while Microsoft bought a large slice of Telewest last year. Bizarre, isn't it? Aside from the $3 billion investment in October, Microsoft and Telewest announced "a strategic alliance to deliver broadband and Internet services." Microsoft was particularly busy buying bits of the British cable business last year, and this was widely seen as an attempt to buy its way into the market. The MS-Telewest alliance was intended to commence with the development of a Telewest-MSN co-branded portal, evolving into a broadband service early this year. The latest Liberate deal on the other hand, although not absolutely excluding Microsoft from the picture, does seem to restrict its available opportunities. Telewest will be using Liberate TV Navigator client software and Liberate Connect at the server end. The system will give customers access to email, banking and e-commerce. Among Liberate's shareholders, you'll recall, are Acer, AOL, Lucent, Nintendo, Oracle, Sega, Sony and Sun - bit of a rogue's gallery from Microsoft's point of view, no? Meanwhile in the department of strange Telewest-related coincidences, we forgot to point out an odd connection last month, when Telewest announced a deal with Worldwide Fiber to build a link between London and Liverpool. The CEO of Worldwide Fiber is Greg Maffei, while the then Microsoft CFO who put $3 billion into Telewest last year was - Greg Maffei. ®

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