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EXCLUSIVE: Hands-On With Microsoft’s Windows TV

Microsoft’s ready to take the set-top market by storm — or at least by gentle rainshower. Here’s a sneak peek at the company’s exciting new Windows TV device.

By (@JRRaphael)

January 4, 2011

The story you're about to read is not (entirely) true. It is, however, more accurate than most things on network television.

Windows TVWell, it was bound to happen: With Apple and Google gunning for the set-top television market, Microsoft has decided to throw its hand into the game, too.

The boys from Redmond, according to an article in The Seattle Times, are working on a new “stripped-down version of Windows tailored for set-box boxes and connected TVs.” The new Windows TV, as it’s been unofficially dubbed, will allegedly launch later this year.

But hey, who wants to wait? Thanks to our frequent contact with bitter Microsoft men’s room attendants well-placed anonymous sources, we were able to steal obtain a prototype of the Windows TV device. We spent some time testing it out; here are our first impressions.

  • Microsoft Windows TVThe Windows TV device came in a sturdy, if slightly plain, metal chassis (see obligatorily blurry image, at right). A latch allows you to open up the unit and access the internal components. Inside, we found what appeared to be an Intel 386 chip with 2MB of RAM.
  • Starting up the Windows TV box was a simple enough process: We pressed the power button, waited approximately 17 minutes, and then were greeted with a familiar-looking Microsoft splash screen. After our desktop froze up for about 90 seconds — our sources say the system was likely loading important drivers and searching for new peripherals during that time — we found ourselves at the Windows TV desktop.
  • The Windows TV desktop is very user-friendly. It has nice, easy-to-read icons and a handy system tray area with approximately 79 unlabeled symbols. We’re pretty sure they all do something really important.
  • Windows TV PermissionsWindows TV looks to be very secure: Whenever we attempted to run a program or process, the system prompted us to see if we wanted to authorize it. This dialog box popped up pretty much every time we clicked on anything.
  • In browsing through the 467 menus in Windows TV’s convenient Control Panel, we discovered that Microsoft is actually working on multiple versions of the platform. The one we had was Windows TV 1.0 Series Home Premium. According to a dialog box that showed up on our screen, other editions include Windows TV 1.0 Series Home Ultimate, Windows TV 1.0 Series Home Supercool, Windows TV 1.0 Series Professional, and Windows TV 1.0 Series Ultimate Supercool Wowzers.
  • Windows TV ClippyFinding help in the Windows TV interface is a cinch. A neat avatar pops up on-screen every time you open a new task. He looks like a paper clip and offers tips on navigating the system. What a fun idea!
  • Microsoft’s Windows TV box offers other stunning entertainment features we haven’t seen in Google’s or Apple’s set-top box offerings. You can open and edit Word and Excel documents, for example, or get plug-and-play access to your entire MP3 collection (so long as it’s stored on a Zune).
  • Windows TV comes with easy Web access, too: Our system had IE6 conveniently preinstalled and ready to roll; we were able to load any Web page (from 1996 or earlier) within a matter of minutes.
  • Windows TV BSODThe system has a unique screen saver, though in our tests, it did seem to pop up quite frequently. The screen saver is a blue screen with some funny wording about “fatal exceptions” — a clever reference to some movie or TV series, we imagine. We couldn’t figure out how to exit the screen saver application without restarting the system, but we probably just don’t fully understand its operation yet.
  • Windows TV comes connected to Microsoft’s burgeoning Windows Marketplace for Mobile, giving you access to thousands hundreds several interesting apps. We found some cutting-edge games — something called “Minesweeper,” and another entitled “Hearts” — along with a intriguing-looking program called “BALLmer BUSTER.”
  • The box has an interesting button on the side labeled “Bing.” We thought it might be some sort of integrated search solution. Pressing it, however, simply caused a doorbell noise to sound. We’re guessing this might still be under development.

All together, Windows TV looks to be another fantastic creation from the Microsoft crew. Our early analysis leads us to believe it’ll be an Apple TV/Google TV/AL TV killer — because, well, every new product has to be a something killer. Otherwise, we’d have to come up with a fresh and noncliched way to describe it, and that’d be way too much work.

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