.NET Seeks Good Reception From Cable

Microsoft could extend the reach of .NET if a cable TV standards body adopts the developer specifications it submitted.

The Redmond, Wash., giant announced the move at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s show in New Orleans today.

Officials working on the OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP), managed by cable TV industry research and development consortium CableLabs, will gather industry experts in coming weeks to look through Microsoft’s .NET common language infrastructure (CLI) draft to see whether the code can work with existing OCAP specifications, versions 1.0 and 2.0.

OCAP is the cable TV middleware component to interactive services on set-top boxes. Companies that develop applications for the industry — like interactive TV (iTV), digital TV recording (DV-R), tailored advertising or entertainment — on top of the OCAP know their programs will run on any box or cable TV gateway, regardless of vendor or service provider.

.NET development environment competitor Java has been OCAP-compliant for years now, so Microsoft will have to play catch-up. As such, the company has tapped James Van Loo, a former Sun Microsystems employee with a history in TV standards, particularly multimedia home platform (MHP) and application configuration access protocol (ACAP) work with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

Microsoft joins a crowd of 10 cable TV middleware providers. Among them is Liberate, a Java-based vendor that’s been OCAP compliant for some time. Liberate was also responsible for wooing then-dominant cable Internet service provider AT&T Broadband away from Microsoft in June 2001, a blow to Redmond’s iTV plans at the time.

If approved, a .NET CLI would open the cable TV industry to millions of software developers who write code on the popular programming framework. With the CLI, coders could create applications without learning another language. The CLI inclusion would also be a boon for the “house as a media center” crowd, as networking between set-top boxes, PCs and other digital players on the Windows platform would be greatly improved.

“Our submission of this initial draft of the [CLI] specifications for OCAP is indicative of Microsoft TV’s continued commitment to driving digital TV interoperability to the advantage of cable operators, applications developers and consumers,” Paul Mitchell, a company senior director said in a statement.

Microsoft has viewed seen cable TV as an entryway into mainstream America’s use of the computer and the Internet. In January 2001, the software giant launched its content builder initiative (CBI) and by June of that year had 40 companies testing their offerings on the company’s iTV platform. In recent times, iTV has evolved into the competitive world of interactive
programming guides
(IPG), a TV portal that allows for accessing a consumer’s content on TVs and PCs — even viewing Internet-based streaming video.

The specification announcement dovetails with the Monday launch of the latest iteration of Microsoft Foundation Edition, version 1.7 — a digital video recording (DV-R) software platform. New features include dual-tuner recording capabilities and a 90-minute buffer so viewers can record a show they’ve been watching and want to record.

The offering integrates video-on-demand software from SeaChange International and extends a partnership between the two companies.

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