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Sony is planning to license its PlayStation 2 technology to third parties, if comments made by Ken Kutaragi, head of the company's video games division, are anything to go by.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Kutaragi said: "The PlayStation 2 should be opened to the outside world. We hope that all of our partners will start thinking about using our technology."

It's not hard to see what might have inspired the move: Sony's goal is to dominate the Net-connected home, and to a large extent that means beating Microsoft. The Beast of Redmond knows this, which is why it launched X-Box as a shot across Sony's bows. Sony's response is clearly to take a leaf from Palm's book and try to widen the PlayStation 2 platform's scope.

As a PalmOS licensee itself, Sony can see clearly how it works. Instead of owning all of a small market, you license the technology to give you just a share of a much bigger market. 'PlayStation Ecomony' anyone?

It's a canny plan that - if successful - generates not only revenue but critical mass, and could establish the PlayStation 2 as the de facto standard for Net appliances.

To be honest, that's probably what it was always going to be, but both X-Box and Sony's apparent focus on the gaming aspect of the console - allowing Sega time to push Dreamcast as much as a Net access tool as a games machine - have obscured the issue. Sony's licensing plan could bring the console back into the information appliance fold, particularly if, like Palm, it seeks licensing partners more interested in taking the technology into new markets than taking on existing ones.

Sony's timescale for licensing isn't clear, but it's unlikely to bear fruit until the company ramps up production of the PlayStation 2's Emotion Engine processor, a move it announced yesterday along with a Y125 billion investment plan. The fact that Sony has discussed the programme now suggests that it has already begun talking to possible partners and may even have signed licence contracts. Certainly Sony has been approached by third parties with regard to licensing PlayStation 2 - Kutaragi admitted as much himself.

Sony's broader PlayStation 2 programme calls for the March 2001 - or thereabouts - availability of broadband Net connections and Internet-based media services to take advantage of them. Given the timing of the licensing announcement, that's probably also the proposed timeframe for the first clones, particularly if they're focused more on home Net access than gaming. ®

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