DETROIT - Microsoft Corp. may dominate the market for desktop computer software, but the company's first salvo at automobile dash-top computing is just reaching North America after more than five years of work.
Microsoft last week said that BMW's redesigned 7-series sedan uses Windows CE software to run its in-dash control computer. It said other automakers would announce plans soon for Windows CE-powered systems for future vehicles.
Microsoft has struggled for a foothold in the market against competitors such as Sun Microsystems Inc. Sun already has agreements with General Motors and Ford Motor Co. to use its Java technology, and Sun CEO Scott McNealy is a Detroit-area native who speaks frequently at auto industry gatherings.
Automakers once saw in-car computing and other telematics as a potential source of huge revenues. But the industry's profit downturn, cool customer response to some technology and cost-cutting at major automakers has dampened such projections.
Gonzalo Bustillos, director of Microsoft's automotive business unit, said Microsoft still is bullish about in-car computing.
"Vehicle computing is going to be there," he said. "Carmakers have decided it's going to be there. The only questions are when, and how the models may become a reality."
Bustillos said Microsoft had Windows CE in 13 vehicle lines worldwide, and nine more will be announced by the end of the year. He said the company is working with major suppliers and is "in discussions with every automaker."
He also said Microsoft would like to see Windows CE used as a link in networks that connect drivers to their home computers, and as an enhancement to navigation systems that give drivers information about their trip.
Said Bustillos: "Consumers will not look at navigation as a system to use when we get lost, but the system that helps me get there in time and helps me avoid traffic."