Microsoft is giving a tune up to its Windows-branded operating system for use in car dashboards, and expects to make a new version of the software available to car makers in the first half of 2003.

The newly renamed Windows Automotive is a variation of the company's Windows CE operating system, which also makes up the foundation for software used to power handheld computers, smart phones and other devices. Microsoft first released its software for in-car computers in 1998 under the name Windows CE for Automotive.

Due for delivery to car manufacturers, suppliers and software developers early next year, Windows Automotive will include support for voice recognition and Bluetooth wireless technology.

It will also include the .Net Compact Framework, a runtime environment required to execute web-based applications and services built using Microsoft's .Net development tools. Those include such applications as hands-free mobile phone service, digital music downloading and live traffic updates.

Microsoft didn't name any new customers that will use the next version of the operating system. Toyota uses the current version of Windows CE for Automotive for its G-Book car computers, which are expected to be installed this month in some Toyota cars sold in Japan. Select cars from BMW and Volvo in the US also use the operating system for dashboard computers.