REDMOND, Wash. -- Having reshaped a big piece of the world's economy around its Windows software, Microsoft Corp. now wants to do the same thing in the car business.
What the Seattle giant sees there says as much about the future of cars as it does about itself.
"The part we want to play in the future," says Pranish Kumar, group program manager for the Seattle-area software giant's Windows Embedded Automotive business, "is creating a unifying experience -- bringing together all the features and technologies into one common platform. But it will also provide a platform that can be easily upgraded and improved as time passes."
Microsoft is part of a wave of computer industry titans -- with Apple, BlackBerry, Google and others -- competing to play a more critical role in cars. The prize, as they see it, is the expanding and highly profitable part of the car that is evolving as an operating system.
Today that business is largely confined to vehicle infotainment systems, which allow drivers to speak by phone, hear traffic conditions, receive e-mails and find restaurants. But in Microsoft's vision of the future, vehicle intelligence will get more sophisticated.
As smartphones, information apps and other consumer devices perform more ambitious functions, software providers will take a bigger role in vehicle development. And when that happens, software companies will begin to influence other component decisions, including steering, seating and interior cabin functions.
Software companies see another potential line of automotive business. When cars have a single, unified operating system somebody will have the opportunity to regularly update the vehicle systems -- ideally for a fee -- in the same way that computer industry firms now update phone apps and software programs.