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Cars, Computers Converge as GM Gets CFO from Microsoft

It's interesting from a couple of perspectives that the new CFO at General Motors, Chris Liddell, comes from Microsoft (MSFT).

First, it's notable that GM Chairman and Acting CEO Ed Whitacre, whose background is with AT&T (T), turned to another outsider yesterday to take over the job as GM CFO.

The GM CFO post traditionally has been a job for auto industry insiders, if not always GM lifers. Ex-CEO Fritz Henderson, for instance, was CFO. Another ex-GM CFO, John Devine, had been CFO at Ford (F).

Assuming Liddell brings some lieutenants with him, that could have a ripple effect, since it probably frustrates the career plans of additional GM career soldiers. The CFO job has also been a path to the CEO job, so Liddell becomes a candidate for that post, too.

Officially, Liddell doesn't leave Microsoft until Dec. 31.

Second, Liddell's appointment is a sign of growing cross-pollination between the U.S. auto industry and the computer industry in general, and Microsoft in particular.

Microsoft is already an important partner with Ford, since Microsoft co-developed Ford's popular Sync system. Sync allows a car's occupants to use voice-control, to control portable devices like cell phones and MP3 players, and to listen to them over the car's speakers.

Microsoft also helped develop a similar system, called "Blue & Me," for Fiat. The Fiat takeover of Chrysler probably means Chrysler products get access to the Fiat system.

In comparison with Ford and Chrysler, GM so far has taken a different approach to its in-car communication system, OnStar. Instead of using the owner's portable cell phone, OnStar uses what amounts to an onboard cell phone, hard-wired into the car.

It's still a stretch, but all these parallel developments make a jump from the computer industry to the auto industry less of a leap than it appears.

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