Is it just possible that Microsoft is getting out of the software business and repositioning itself as a global telco and cable operator?
Might sound daft. But then why is the Seattle software giant having a blitz on buying shares in international cable firms and phone companies, as opposed to investing its considerable wealth in ventures associated with its core business - namely, developing programs and applications?
The latest to fall victim to Microsoft's predatory ambitions is Swedish mobile phone operator Sendit, a small outfit but one which could give Microsoft chief executive Bill Gates access to useful cellular phone technology.
Sendit is the latest in a long line of acquisitions and tie-ups for Microsoft, which is suddenly spending like there's no tomorrow. Here in the UK alone, the company has long been sniffing around BT while simultaneously bidding for ever larger chunks of other phone and cable operators.
Nearly a third of Cable & Wireless's cable division, it seems, could soon belong to Microsoft, which has already done a similar deal with Telewest, another large UK cable operator. For good measure, it has added to its investment portfolio a five per cent stake in yet another British cable outfit, NTL.
Judging by its last annual report, Microsoft has about $20 billion in reserve and is leaving no stone unturned. Mighty Deutsch Telekom, in which Microsoft reportedly wants a $1 billion stake, is yet another European telco in its sights.
What's going on? One thing is a battle for digital control of the living room: Gates wants to be behind every bit of bandwidth that connects homes to the outside world. If it's cable delivering content to Web TVs, he wants a say in how those companies are run and, even more importantly, which technologies they deploy.
If satellite proves more successful, Gates is there too with his 80-strong array of low-orbit sputniks soon to be circling the Earth. Rupert Murdoch is said to be giving away his BSkyB decoders for free only to prevent Gates from encircling him with Microsoft's de facto standards.
But the Seattle wunderkind wants to go further. By buying into both cable and cellular firms , he is poised to exert influence over how we all receive information - from the sales rep with a wireless laptop to punter seeking to update share prices using the latest internet-enabled mobile phone.
And underpinning all this customer-facing technology, of course, will be Microsoft enterprise NT systems.
In the Brave New World of e-commerce, it looks likely that Gates will be the invisible master cop, waving through the digital hordes towards his own highways and signposting - at a price - the motorway cities and colonies of others.
PC prices have already peaked and software looks set to go down the same route. What better bolthole for Microsoft, then, than to hitch its fortunes to the cable and cellular market? Watch this cyber space.
Dave Evans is a freelance IT journalist.
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