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Comment A "rich new set of applications and services" will soon be embedded in the most mundane, everyday objects and devices, Microsoft Vice President Bill Veghte predicted as he announced the launch of a new Embedded and Appliance Platforms Group, which he will head up, during the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference this week.

The new group will develop all the embedded gizmo platforms, operating systems and applications with which Micro$oft hopes to plague humanity at every conceivable turn of daily life. The chief slogan of the impending revolution will be "Windows Enabled", a reasonably punchy rival to 'Zilla's "Intel Inside" which so outclassed MS's former and palpably lame "Where do you want to go today" mantra. Apparently, everything from vacuum cleaners to alarm clocks to nose hair clippers will soon be "Windows Enabled" if Microsoft has its way.

Naturally, this will involve the company in business entanglements with the manufacturers of just about every superfluous object that a modern, right-thinking person dutifully clutters his life with. "We're about technology, and this is about enabling partners," he gushed. "It's about rich, connected devices and services."

"It's about delivering the richest platforms. It's about a development model," he went on. "It's about delivering an end-to-end solution."

Veghte noted that the rate of development for consumer gizmos far outstrips that for embedded applications, and identified accelerating the pace as his outfit's greatest challenge. "Today it takes twelve to eighteen months to deliver an embedded process, [so] we're making changes in our 'metric'."

He said he intends to provide the all-redemptive end-to-end solutions to those who desire them within ninety days. We tired of the "it's about" doxology rather early in the presentation, but for Veghte it remained as fresh as a knock-knock joke to a slow child. "It's about scalability to accommodate customers as they change," he insisted on saying.

What he meant is that Microsoft will promote a few catch-all basic operating systems and development tools which can be tailored in minor ways to accommodate the largest possible range of devices.

Thus we will find a plethora of consumer gizmos dependent on Windows CE, and Web-enabled devices dependent on Windows 2K, while developers can treat themselves to working with Windows Embedded Visual Tools in quest of new and better ways to make the Windows Enabled barbecue grill communicate to advantage with the Windows Enabled automobile guidance system. (Perhaps guests arriving by car to a summer picnic can watch the steaks cooking via the Windows Enabled barbecue Web cam, and even e-mail their host a few last-minute menu suggestions en route to the festivities.)

This superficially scalable Twenty-First Century strategy, we recall, did wonders for General Motors in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, when the differences between, say, Buicks, Oldsmobiles and Pontiacs were to be found exclusively in the tail-light lenses, grilles and bonnet ornaments. The company made a fortune selling what was essentially the same car to consumers across several different markets.

So really, it's about imposing basic uniformity on technical standards so that minor adaptations will be cheap and easy to make. But Veghte put it best: "Leveraging the investments that our partners make in a range of products is super, super important," he asserted.

If Redmond seems more like post-war Detroit than anything the Jetson-cartoonish Seattle Space Needle would imply, it should surprise no one. Detroit fed on a largely naïve post-war populace with fresh money to burn and for whom car ownership was sufficiently novel and exciting to suppress consumer discrimination. Endless commercial homilies equating the attendant debt and insurance obligations and maintenance costs and hours pissed away in traffic jams with 'freedom' took a while to emerge as the outrageous lies that they were.

It's this sort of popular naïveté and excitement surrounding computing and the Internet that Microsoft will exploit - and we imagine, quite effectively - as it goes about becoming the General Motors of the Information Age, and, ironically, in the most characteristically Old Economy fashion imaginable. ®

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