Oct 13, 2003  •  Post A Comment

The New York Times recently published a lengthy article on Microsoft’s new Windows XP Media Center. The story went on and on about how the software can turn your PC into a TV, playing DVDs and recording and rewinding your favorite shows. However, it wasn’t until 1,154 words into the article that Times reporter David Pogue finally wrote the lead:
“There’s still the small problem of where in your home to put the Media Center PC. The best place to use it as a PC is at your desk, but are you really going to sit in your office to watch TV?” Pogue wrote.
Humorist S.J. Perlman once said that the Los Angeles Times was an exciting paper to read because you never knew where you would come across a front page story. (Still true, by the way.) Likewise, with The New York Times, you never know where you might find the most salient fact.
The Media Center is dead on arrival. The American people will not watch television on their PCs-not today, not tomorrow, not ever. The very concept is foreign to the way we think. Many Americans spend long hours every day hunched over a personal computer. Consequently, most of us associate the PC with the unpleasantness of work. That will not change no matter how many video features are added.
man of the mouse
However, that view is not shared at Microsoft headquarters, where the PC has always been regarded as an entertainment device. Let’s face it, the company was founded by a brilliant but nerdy individual who would rather have a mouse in his hand than a remote. Bill Gates has never understood why most of his fellow citizens do not take pleasure in such activities as installing a new operating system. If you could put Gates’ DNA beneath the lens of a microscope, you would see a picture of a PC.
Over the years Microsoft has tried to wrestle free from its own psychological limitations. The company has launched a number of TV-based initiatives, from interactive TV services to the Ultimate TV digital video recorder service. Despite billions spent on research and development, the Microsoft TV division has been a Titanic-size flop. The products and services always seem a little too technical, as if they were conceived by people who don’t watch a lot of television. For instance, Microsoft’s WebTV, now called MSN TV, was based on the wacky premise that Americans wanted to surf the Internet on their TVs. Nearly six years later the Internet TV service has fewer than 1 million subscribers, which surveys have shown include large numbers of senior citizens who don’t own a PC.
new interactive software
Microsoft recently reconfigured (reconfigured is Microsoft-speak for “changed”) its interactive TV software, and several cable TV operators have agreed to use the service in limited trials around the country. Microsoft says the new software, which will permit TV viewers to access on-demand programming, will be simpler and less prone to technical glitches.
Perhaps. However, Microsoft’s new campaign for the Media Center suggests that the company is still straitjacketed by its emotional ties to the personal computer. If that’s true, it would not be surprising if cable operators give Microsoft TV the boot. Or, should I say, the reboot.
Phillip Swann is president and publisher of TVPredictions.com. He can be reached at Swann@TVPredictions.com.