In car computing

There are more automobiles than there are buildings. This is what we know for sure today about the potential market for car computing.Given that fact, it stands to reason that automotive computing will become a market for the channel. The only question is when, and the answer depends on who you speak to.

Microsoft, at its recently concluded Worldwide Partner Conference in Denver, had a few cars on display running Windows Automotive 5.0, which has been built on the Windows CE operating system. But that was it. Company executives from CEO Steve Ballmer, COO Kevin Turner and channel chief Allison Watson did not speak one word about this new technology, but given their demonstrations, they believe there is a market today.

Windows Automotive
Windows Automotive 5.0 is a 32-bit, memory protected software platform for OEMs to build a broad range of in-vehicle technological solutions running on any type of microprocessor. Microsoft expects its channel of more than 600,000 worldwide partners to get involved in creating these high-tech car PC concepts, but it is not on the front burner. More like tucked away behind immediate opportunities with Vista, Office, unified communications, Dynamics and Forefront security.

Rick Reid, the president of Tech Data Canada, said he has been hearing about car computing for years. He refers to it at “the next big sale.”

Reid anticipates that after this current boom in security and high end storage, the automobile will be the next wave.

But while Cisco CEO John Chambers agrees with Reid that car computing will be a big market in five to seven years, he said that it will be one of many big markets.

“I think it will be the next phase of the Internet. It will be a good market and be an opportunity for many players in the industry with the right content, devices and tracking,” Chambers said.

Reid said for this futuristic market to take off it will need to have the right applications.

“If you can find an application that can be used in every single car in the world; imagine the market,” Reid said.

But what are those applications? Reid said that in-vehicle applications for mapping, GPS, destination management, consumption maintenance, and a personal system for housing contacts will be the first available.

“Some of them will have GPS or in combination with Bluetooth and your cell phone. You can be very productive in your car,” he said.

According to Microsoft, which has a devoted a subsection of its Web site to Windows Automotive 5.0 (, there are 30 pre-installed and aftermarket devices from automakers such as BMW, DaimlerChrysler, Honda, Toyota, and Volvo.

On top of that there are car stereo companies such as Clarion, Kenwood, Matsushita Electric, Mitsubishi (which also makes cars), Pioneer and Sanyo that have car computing applications on the drawing board.Currently, Microsoft would only reveal the system start-up application which measures car performance.

The Ford Motor Company of Canada recently teamed up with Microsoft to deliver Sync, an in-car digital system that activates mobile phones and music players by use of driver’s voice.

Sync will be available in nine Ford models sometime this year.

“Sync is what today’s generation and today’s drivers demand in connectivity. Not only does it offer hands-free phone operation and iPod or MP3 player connectivity, it’s built on a software platform that is upgradeable and will allow us to offer new features by simply upgrading the software,” said Derrick Kuzak, group vice-president, product development at Ford.

Microsoft also released a tool kit, called the Automotive User Interface, with Windows Automotive 5.0. This tool kit is a GUI framework for creating other user interfaces and stored as XML. Microsoft does believe Windows Automotive 5.0 can dramatically improve safety, communications and navigation.

Microsoft is also sweetening the pot a little in hopes of channel enablement. For example, Windows Automotive will have free evaluation tools and low-cost licensing. It also scales from small footprints to full-size infotainment systems so that compact BMW Mini Cooper and SUV Hammer H2 are not left out.

Special applications
Large military vehicles are already equipped with high-end Cisco routers.

Many car manufacturers that are pre-installing Windows Automotive are also building cars with Cisco routers.

Chambers said that security is still a factor. The jumping-in point for partners and vendors should be with secure data transfer, such as sending diagrams.

Beyond that, for car computing to really take hold in the market the IT industry must make its technologies green, Chambers said.

“It’s easy to be green with technology in cars if they have smart highways that know how many cars are approaching a certain area and try to redirect them to improve traffic flow,” he said.

Chambers envisions many devices connecting to cars. He added that the car could become a mini data center.

In fact, Windows Automotive 5.0 has the capability to provide file and memory management, device and service management along with threads and process management right to the networking stack.

“(Car computing) could be a story that is a virtual one with dealerships or service providers who can find out if you are there when an accident takes place (and you need medical attention),” he said.

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Paolo Del Nibletto
Paolo Del Nibletto
Former editor of Computer Dealer News, covering Canada's IT channel community.

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