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Long-planned escape from beige boxes

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While Auto PC generated lots of jokes about crashing and system errors, it didn't generate much in the way of applications or devices to run them on. So it was relaunched in 2000 with a snappier name: Microsoft Windows CE for Automotive 2.0:

"Consumers are looking for even greater value from their vehicle, and the ability to merge home, office, and vehicle will greatly improve their quality of life," said David Peace, who at the time was a vice president at Visteon.

In July 2004, Microsoft announced that Fiat would be embedding Microsoft Auto (as the platform had become known) into some of its cars, and in January Microsoft announced a deal with Ford to supply Microsoft Auto for some of its models.

These days, the platform is limited to playing back audio from "popular mobile music devices" and hands-free telephony, but Microsoft still has great plans for equipping our cars with its software, even if it takes another decade or two.

Windows around the home

While Auto PC continues to develop, and gain the occasional customer, not every technology has been so successful.

Mira was a project to allow PC users to pick up their screen and take it with them around the house. The screen would be connected over Wi-Fi, and interaction would be touch-sensitive.

"Mira does for monitors what the cordless handset did for telephones", Steve Ballmer said in 2002, when the concept was launched and devices were predicted for Christmas. We were pretty dismissive at the time, but the fact that Mira was a technology in search of a problem is probably what killed it.

Several manufacturers were encouraged to make Mira (or Smart Display, as it became known) devices, and LG even persisted when Microsoft pulled the plug on the project in 2004.

Set-under boxes

Mira was always intended as a consumer technology; companies were supposed to buy Tablet PCs, but the biggest screen in most consumer's homes has never seen a Microsoft logo.

In the late 90s, everyone was convinced that internet access on a TV was going to change the world, and Microsoft was no exception. It bashed Windows CE about until it fitted into the Dreamcast, Sega's games console, which was launched to great acclaim in 1998 and then trounced by the Playstation 2 in 1999, despite featuring the unparalleled Chu Chu Rocket.

1997 saw Microsoft buying WebTV - a company specialising in presentation of internet content on TV screens. Later rebranded as "MSN TV" the service is still just-about around. Using cut-down PC hardware and Windows CE, MSN TV2 can provide basic internet browsing and work as a media player for content on other PCs around the home.

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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