Microsoft updates car Windows

15 July 2005

Microsoft launched its latest software for carmakers, Windows Automotive 5.0, earlier this week in Japan. Company vice president Todd Warren talked up the depth and breadth of Microsoft’s technology, although it’s not entirely clear what use the handwriting recognition he highlighted would be in a car. Voice recognition, also given prominence, does have more obvious benefits, however.
Warren also stated several times that it’s now eight years since Microsoft’s first foray into auto IT, although the Citro├źn Xsara Windows CE of five years ago is the oldest example of a real production vehicle with Microsoft behind the dashboard.
The road from 1998 to today has clearly been a bit bumpier than Microsoft might have wished, given that only 27 models worldwide are currently offered with Windows Automotive preinstalled. A business deal with Magneti Marelli and Fiat could see that number increase dramatically in the near future, however.
More intriguing was Warren’s suggestion that Windows Automotive 5.0 has been designed to more readily accept upgrades after fitment.
This could be a good thing: software errors identified after your car leaves the factory could be fixed more simply at the next service.
It could also be a very bad thing. As desktop PC users will be well aware, Microsoft has a habit of moving things around from one version of its software to the next. Does anyone really want that hire-car, where’s-the-windscreen-wiper feeling every time they get their own car back from the garage? Or worse, bearing in mind the wireless, net-connected vision that Microsoft espouses, the software could change randomly between journeys, in the way that some digital TV set-top boxes currently update themselves over the air.
If updates to in-car software are not done sensitively, the car of the near future could be a very confusing place to be.

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