Microsoft claims that from a standing start little more than a year ago, it has gone on to sign deals with major telephone operators to use its television software, representing a quarter of the world’s phone lines.

Moshe Lichtman, the vice president of Microsoft TV is quoted in The Guardian as saying that the software company is looking at about a quarter of the world’s fixed telephone lines, and three-quarters of those in North America and Western Europe, around 200 million lines in all.

Such figures should be read with caution, as analysts predict that up to 40 million homes worldwide will receive television through their telephone line by the end of the decade, but they do indicate the scale of ambition from Microsoft and the strategic importance that it is attaching to this area.

So far Microsoft has announced deals with SBC and Verizon in the United States and many other operators are engaged in trials, although most, including BT, have yet to announce their preferred software suppliers.

The Microsoft television solution is known as Microsoft IPTV Edition, which stands for internet protocol TV. Microsoft is keen to point out that this does not necessarily mean television on a PC. Internally, Microsoft refers to its software as TV2, because it believes that it represents the next generation of television. It is aiming for its software to become the standard operating system for delivering television over broadband networks in the future in the same way that it dominates the desktop today.

Microsoft recently entered into a strategic partnership with Alcatel, a leading supplier of telecoms equipment, which strengthens its credibility with telco networks.

A number of other companies are also competing for a slice of the television middleware business, among them Myrio, which is co-incidentally also based in Seattle. While other vendors are unable to make announcements, Microsoft appears to be dominating the public relations campaign because it makes good copy for a general readership.

The newspapers prefer to present this as a battle between Bill Gates and Rupert Murdoch for the future of television, which makes for good headlines. The Guardian goes with “Bill and Rupert’s big adventure”.

Perhaps the real issue is whether video services will continue to be based on open standards, or whether proprietary platforms will succeed. Many operators are cautious about being bound to a sole supplier, but may recognise the benefits of a single solution if it avoids the issues of integrating separate systems, particularly if it becomes widely adopted.