Anticipating an era when cars connect to the Internet, Microsoft is adding the capability to connect to its Live Search service to its automotive offerings, composed of Microsoft Auto and Windows Automotive. Microsoft Auto is the software behind Ford's Sync system, while Windows Automotive powers some portable navigation devices and some factory-installed navigation systems. Although Microsoft's announcement won't have an immediate impact on products, the tools will be there for companies such as Ford to build a search function into the in-car interfaces, possibly tailoring it to provide greater flexibility when searching for destinations, as opposed to today's fixed points-of-interest databases.
In a conversation about the new Sirius Travel Link service being offered in the Lincoln MKS, Ford spokesman Mark Schirmer said that people are getting used to having the Internet at home and in the office, and will want similar access to information in their cars. Microsoft's announcement comports with Ford's interest in offering this access. This move also looks like a means for Microsoft to own the in-car search business, keeping Google locked out. Instead of offering complete Web access, cars using Microsoft Auto and Windows Automotive will most likely use interfaces designed for the driving experience, with access to specific information of use while on the road.
Another component of Microsoft's announcement is a 30 percent increase in funding for its automotive unit and the replacement of Martin Thall, who formerly headed the unit, with Tom Phillips, a 16-year veteran of Microsoft. Phillips previously advanced Microsoft's server business and is currently head of Global Services for Microsoft's Specialized Devices and Applications Group. His move to general manager of Microsoft Automotive suggests that Microsoft will be looking to increase the service side of the automotive platforms.