What’s the next big thing? This is a question that has persistently hovered over the tech industry for years. With smartphones arguably on the cusp of becoming commodities, it’s only natural for us to wonder what the next technological leap is going to be. And while it may be too soon to make a bold proclamation in any particular direction, there’s a lot of evidence suggesting that self-driving cars will represent the next tectonic shift in how we live our lives.

These days, some of the biggest and well regarded tech and car companies on the planet — a list that includes Tesla, Google, Uber and Apple — are working feverishly to develop fully autonomous driving technology. And now comes word that the list is about to get even bigger.

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According to The Wall Street Journal, Microsoft wants to get in on the autonomous driving action. And though the folks at Redmond have no desire to manufacture a car themselves, in contrast to the rumors we’ve heard about Apple, they’re nonetheless interested in working on the underlying technology.

“We won’t be building our own autonomous vehicle but we would like to enable autonomous vehicles and assisted driving as well,” Microsoft’s Peggy Johnson said at a technology conference this week.

And lest anyone think that Microsoft is merely paying lip service to the idea, Johnson relayed that Microsoft has already engaged in talks with various car companies about the technologies they’d like to see in cars of the future.

Sounds intriguing, to be sure, but Microsoft, not surprisingly, seems particularly eager to get its productivity software into cars.

Ms. Johnson said Microsoft has asked various auto makers what kind of technological applications they are looking for, whether it is working with Azure, its cloud-based service for businesses, Office 365, the cloud version of its productivity software suite, or its Windows operating system.

“You’re sitting in the car for many, many minutes a day. Can that be part of your new office, can it be your new desk, a place where you actually get work done? We believe it can. Each of them had a little something different that they wanted,” she said.

It’s a strange approach, but perhaps not all that surprising given Microsoft’s laser-like focus on all things productivity. Can cars technically become an extension of one’s office? Perhaps. But I’m a bit skeptical that this will have sufficient mainstream appeal to make it worth pursuing.

Regardless, the auto industry seems to be on the cusp of a revolution and it’s not at all surprising to see tech heavyweights like Apple, Google and Microsoft all itching to hop on board lest they be left behind.

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