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Tuesday, May 25, 1999 Published at 18:05 GMT 19:05 UK

Business: The Company File

Microsoft is 'not a cable company'

Steve Balmer has "great ideas" for consumers

The company is not called Microcable. But it could be.

During the past year, software giant Microsoft has made a string of strategic acquisitions in the cable industry, both in the United States and in Europe.

Microsoft President Steve Balmer: We are not a cable operator
Some analysts say Microsoft is on its way to dominate the next industry, broadband cable.

But Steve Balmer, President of Microsoft, denies this. Speaking to the BBC's Richard Quest in the offices of BBC News Online, he insisted that Microsoft was not in the business of becoming a cable operator.

The company, he said, would remain focused on software. The only purpose of investing into cable was to inject capital into small Internet markets.

Web lifestyle

This, though, does not explain Microsoft taking a $5bn stake in AT&T. The former phone company is now the proud owner of TCI and MediaOne, turning it into the largest cable company in the United States.

Microsoft also owns 11.5% of Comcast, one of the largest cable operators in the United States.

In the UK, the company has a small stake in cable operator NTL, owns 29.9% of Telewest and is reportedly negotiating to take over the UK cable operations of Cable & Wireless, which would promote the Seattle-based software company to become the country's number one cable operator.

Critics suggest that Microsoft is making the investments in order to push its Windows CE software as the operating system for so-called television set-top boxes.

These allow interactive television services and the integration of the Internet with more traditional forms of home entertainment.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates has high hopes for the merger of Internet and broadband services. He predicts the emergence of a "web lifestyle".

And Steve Balmer says that Microsoft has "some great ideas of things that consumers want to do".

World domination

Not surprisingly, Mr Balmer believes his firm can deliver the software to do these things.

However, the path along the information and entertainment super-highway is not without potholes.

Next week, the antitrust case brought by the US government against Microsoft will resume.

Mr Balmer says his company will fight hard to make sure it can continue to drive innovation in the software industry.

Microsoft, he says, does not want world domination.

It just wants to build a "software that enables people to be empowered, to communicate with one another on any device they want to, to connect, to do business over the Internet.

"That's the future, we want to build the software that enables that."

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