Comcast, the leading cable operator in the United States, is to drop the Microsoft TV software it has been testing in the Seattle area for over two years. It will be replaced with the Guideworks system created in conjunction with Gemstar-TV Guide that Comcast uses elsewhere in America.

The cable company agreed to use the Microsoft TV Foundation Edition system in November 2004 as a trial in Washington State. For Microsoft it marked a major milestone in its bid to break into cable television, in which it had already invested billions of dollars. The deployment in the Microsoft home state served as a showcase for their aspirations to improve the viewer experience.

However, Comcast continued to develop its own i-Guide in collaboration with Gemstar-TV Guide, which it has deployed on its Motorola set-top boxes elsewhere.

Comcast says that replacing the Microsoft TV system will provide consistency across the country, enabling new services to be introduced more easily. The replacement guide will be rolled out to customers in Washington State over the summer.

Consumer reaction to the Microsoft system was not particularly favourable, with many users claiming that the navigation was clumsy, but according to many users, the Guideworks software is no better.

Although it apparently came as no surprise, the decision to drop Microsoft must be a blow to its corporate pride. While it has found some success over the border in Mexico, Microsoft has failed to make much impact on the cable television industry in the United States.

Microsoft has concentrated instead on telecommunications companies that are aiming to compete with cable. Verizon is using a hybrid variant of the software that is similar in some ways to traditional cable television systems, while AT&T is pursuing an approach entirely based on internet protocol standards. Microsoft now has 17 customers worldwide for its IPTV Edition platform, although the total number of subscribers remains relatively modest.

Microsoft is putting a brave face on the Comcast decision. “When you look at the big picture and where the market is going, there’s a lot more momentum for us around IPTV. The market potential there is pretty tremendous,” Ed Graczyk, director of marketing for Microsoft TV told The Seattle Times.