Microsoft has signed an agreement with five Japanese carmakers to produce Windows CE-based software for automobile computers that will provide hands-free communication capabilities, emergency services, and roadside assistance in addition to GPS-based navigational functionality. The software, called Windows CE for Automotive, will be licensed to Toyota-affiliate Aisin AW, car component maker Denso, car audio maker Clarion, Nissan-affiliate Xanavi Informatics, and Mitsui, which is Japan's second biggest trading house.

"Today's announcement increases the number of participants in the development \[that was agreed on in March\], enabling car navigation system makers to cut costs involved in producing powerful navigation systems,'' a Denso spokesperson said of the deal. Denso is Japan's biggest car component maker.

Navigation systems based on Windows CE for Automotive will be deployed in Japan in 2001 or 2002, the companies said. Japan is interested in agreeing on a communications standards for car devices and this release of Windows CE will be tailored to that project. Major Japanese electronics firms, such as Hitachi, NEC, and Matsushita will also participate in the standardization process. Let's hope that CE is more popular in cars than it's been in the handheld arena, where the OS has floundered since its release four years ago. Just this year, Microsoft released two new versions of its CE software, for PocketPC and Handheld PC devices respectively