Microsoft's master plan revealed

The rumors are flying again about Microsoft's possible announcement of a "HomeStation" product:
Richard Doherty, president of research firm The Envisioneering Group, said in an interview that based on briefings with Microsoft and its suppliers, he believes a version of the HomeStation will be on the market by this fall.

"They were really supposed to announce this last week" at the Consumer Electronics Show, Doherty said, but manufacturing commitments must still be tied up.

Microsoft representatives declined to comment on the HomeStation reports

Other folks are very skeptical of these reports, but I betcha they're right.

HomeStation's latest trip around the rumor mill made something click for me somehow. I had known all along that a do-it-all set-top box would be coming, but I guess I hadn't seen clearly how imminent the mythical and ever-vaporous convergence really is. I would love to replace my TiVo and DVD player with a single box that could combine the functionality of a TiVo, DVD player, MP3 player, and a game console. Add home phoneline networking or a DOCSIS cable modem, and maybe a web browser and e-mail client, and you're set.

Or, to put it another way, what we're looking at is a device that combines the capabilities of a Microsoft Ultimate TV, Windows Media player, a Microsoft Xbox, and a Microsoft WebTV.

You could watch MSNBC on it. Or chat using Microsoft Instant Messenger. Or edit digital photos with a Microsoft photo processing package.

The experience of buying a DVD player with MP3 playback capabilities this Christmas demonstrated to me that consumers—lots of 'em—are ready for a device like this. The crazy thing is, a HomeStation that would pull together the capabilities of this array of Microsoft products would seem like the logical outgrowth of a series of seemingly unrelated (or only semi-related) products Microsoft has been developing for years now. But it all fits, from the Xbox's PC-like internals capable of handling a range of tasks beyond video games—and doing so much easer than a Playstation 2 or GameCube—to the Xbox's relatively adult-oriented (not that like, perv) mix of titles.

Is this Microsoft's master plan: to make the home PC back into a box that's connected to the family TV? To build a digital media hub capable of replacing a number of devices, including possibly even that klunky old Dell system? And will Microsoft choose to build the software and license the concept to manufacturers, or will they make the hardware themselves this time out?

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