When Bill Gates goes to the annual Consumer Electronic Show in Vegas to announce yet another bold, visionary partnership with an innovative new high-tech darling

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Microsoft Embraces the Edsel

Get ready for a new kind of software crash--on your drive home from work.

When Bill Gates goes to the annual Consumer Electronic Show in Vegas to announce yet another bold, visionary partnership with an innovative new high-tech darling with an unlimited future, he marries Microsoft to a dinosaur from Detroit? You probably sold your Ford stock years ago, but get ready for your Microsoft shares to plunge. The New York Times reports that “Microsoft and Ford are to offer a system called Sync, a voice-activated method for connecting cellphones and media players—like Microsoft’s Zune—to a vehicle. Sync, the first major commercial introduction of the Microsoft Auto software, offers hands-free phone dialing and can read incoming text messages through the car’s audio system.”

I don’t know which is more terrifying: that all those software engineers who park their Audis and Subarus in Redmond can’t find a better class of dashboard to gum up with their excess code; or that motorists in the lane next to you on 520 will soon be uncontrollably swerving their Ford Expeditions when Sync inevitably causes the electronic control systems to crash. How many accidents do you think will result from commuters trying to read those constant Microsoft error messages during the morning rush hour?

Zune is enough of a joke; you’re never going to see one of those plugged into the dash of a Boxter or Cayenne. Audio snobs and automotive snobs, pretty much the same species, would never stoop so low. But anyone cursed to work with Bill Gates’ products at the office—“Your program has performed an illegal operation and will be shut down immediately”—has got to be doubly alarmed at the notion of an entire corporate division dedicated to messing up our cars, too. (If you’re unfortunate enough to drive a Ford, that is.) Microsoft Auto? That means somewhere at Red West a bunch of geeks are meeting right now at a white erase board, planning to sell us mandatory software upgrades before our Crown Vic will start in the morning. Just click “Yes” before turning ignition; your account will automatically be debited via Microsoft Money.

How long do you think it will take before hackers turn your Aerostar into a spambot? And don’t think there won’t be pop-up ads on your windshield. Then there’s the problem of getting your mouse cord tangled around the steering wheel.

Somehow I doubt that Bill Gates drives a Crown Victoria. And you can be sure that when Steve Jobs announces an automotive brand-extension of the iPod, he’ll be standing next to a Lexus.

 
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