For the Week of February 2, 2004
A new house is going up on Winter Avenue, where I live.
This is big news. Our street was built between 1910-1924. The newest house on the block until now probably dates from the late 1940s, and is practically a brick shack, with a roof that slopes forward, and perhaps 800 square feet of space inside.
The new house is quite different. This is an ultra-modern McMansion, due to be priced at $400,000. (That's $1 million Californian.) The place had not been enclosed yet as this was written, so on Sunday we took a little tour.
Our little house has six rooms of roughly equal size, all on one floor. The new house has three floors, towering over the block to a height of nearly 50 feet, and the floor plan is radically different. The kitchen opens up directly onto a large dining area and a deck behind it. The living room is tiny, and with a convertible couch could double as a guest bedroom.
But the biggest difference is the main bedroom, or the master bedroom suite. Its bathroom could fit my living room inside it, there's a walk-in closet and a windowed dressing area, and a king-sized bed would look tiny in the main room, surrounded by huge windows to the south and west. There is even a small deck, from which the new master can drink his coffee and look down on my pitiful front yard like a lord overlooking peasants. The suite is truly the center of everything that will happen in this home.
The center of everything moves over time. When I came up, in the late 1970s, the living room was the center of everything, and there was a vogue for "great rooms" with towering ceilings, fireplaces, and enough space to dance in. The stereo was the central piece of consumer electronics then. Our first big purchase as a married couple was a tuner, into which we could plug our phonograph (yes, they had them then), our speakers, and enjoy "quadraphonic sound."
The center shifted over time, to the home-office. This is where the PC resides. PCs entered most homes in the early 1980s, and gradually spread around the house. A key Clue here was the cost of the average PC from roughly 1980 until 1998 - it was $2,000. The PC evolved into a multimedia play-station, then into an Internet portal, and with the Internet prices finally started moving down, because the upgrade from Internet is broadband, not a new box. So today you can get a new PC for $500 and laptops cost less than $1,000. Moore's Law has finally triumphed.
What will life be like in my new neighbor's master bedroom suite? My guess is it will be centered on the TV.
While no one was looking the TV replaced the PC as the center of everything. I learned about this over the holidays when I bought a DVD player and found my old set inadequate. You can really dump a ton on a set, I found. It's complicated, like stereos were, and like PCs were later. You want LCD, you want plasma, you want a letterbox "aspect ratio," you want digital inputs and digital outs, and you want to spend, say, $5,000 for a top-of-the-line model, maybe $2,000 for something your friends will call "decent."
That price point should be familiar. It's the old PC price point, where top-of-the-line stereo systems were priced in the 1970s, adjusted for inflation and a young man's pocketbook. All this is of vital importance when you try and think about what we need to have happen in order for the World Of Always On to start happening. Because as long as the TV is the center of the action, as long as we're slaves to its demands, then we're just looking for entertainment. We're passive users of technology, not active users.
Now lots of people have big plans for connecting this new center to the periphery. Microsoft, in particular, is touting its "Multimedia PC." This is the home that DigitalDeck is looking to sell into . The idea is to extend the reach of digital media from the bedroom downstairs, into the kitchen, and into the small front "living room." Music will live on a hard drive, satellite signals will be shared wirelessly, and eventually even the DVD collection will be mirrored on the home server.
Of course, I can already see several problems with that. The keyboard and mouse interface is one, even if you just have a terminal connected to the server in the dining area, off the kitchen. Dirty, wet hands, eyes having to navigate menus as you search for the music you want to cook or eat with...see what I mean?
In the Microsoft Multimedia world, of course, the PC's role ends at work and entertainment. In the World of Always-On, it just starts there. You should be able to access the network from a PDA in your hand, or a cellphone. You should be able to talk to it. And your wireless network should be running more than your stereo. It should be watering your plants, letting you know what you can cook, handling your physical security, monitoring your health, and keeping track of your family. Give the kid a cellphone-GPS-wristwatch, like Dick Tracy, and send her out on a date with less worry. Know, through the network, that your mom is OK and her blood sugar isn't out-of-bounds, even if she lives in another state. Update your Palm automatically with tomorrow's schedule so you can check it out over your morning coffee.
Productivity and ease-of-use need to come into every area of life, not just our work, not just our TV-watching. When the PC is a home server, running an Always-On wireless broadband platform, that can happen.
See how much bigger that vision is than anything Microsoft has come up with? In the World of Always-On the center will shift again, away from any physical location, into the air, and we'll interface with it as we see fit, when we see fit, or only when the world needs us.
I work as a business analyst with Progressive Strategies, a New York research firm that has the ear of the world's top technology companies.
My last book, "The Blankenhorn Effect" won the Computer/Internet category in the 2003 Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards .
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Takes on the News
Google made its reputation by leading. It did search right, for the first time, and won the faith of users through its creed of first, do no harm.
But I'm afraid that, on the eve of its public offering, Google is rapidly losing its way. Its "social networking service" is late and no better than average. Its plan to put context-laden ads in e-mail has the potential to do a great deal of harm. And its News service, thanks to a flaw in what it calls news, makes Fox look fair and balanced .
More troubling than the trouble is its response. In the past, when there was trouble at Google, the company responded quickly. Now it appears they are circling the wagons. Some of the folks there seem to think the IPO represents the end of something. Unless they get an attitude change, they're right.
Mini-Drive Era To Be Brief
The media is heralding the "era" of the mini-drive . Tiny, high capacity hard drives are indeed a very good thing.
But their stay at the top of the tech pyramid will be very brief. These drives have many moving parts - at heart they are still record players. Materials science is bringing lots of new storage technologies to light, new materials like plastics, which are more stable, and which can create themselves.
Many people are predicting the "death" of Moore's Law as we get closer to the atomic scale, and the rise of these tiny drives seems to herald that. But what they forget is that Moore's Law was a challenge, a challenge that can also be met by using different materials to jump over the hurdles represented by Moore's Second Law. As scientists use silicon and metal hard drive computers in their research, their ability to make these other necessary breakthroughs also increases exponentially. I'm going to call that Moore's Law of Science.
Sad Truth About VoIP
I'm a big fan of Voice over IP as a technology. Voice is essentially a low-bandwidth service. It makes enormous sense for it to ride on the low-cost Internet infrastructure.
But the promise of VoIP will never be realized . Carriers have been slowly adopting the technology for years now. And the real savings between a VoIP carrier and a non-carrier with VoIP software lies solely in the regulations and taxes imposed on the carrier.
Carrier-based VoIP is no bargain because the carriers are subject to regulation, not just taxation but police regulation as well. In the end, the "bad guys" are going to get their VoIP through software that encrypts their calls, moves them into the broad rivers of the Internet, and doesn't decrypt them until they reach their destination. This is a huge upset to police, who will find they have no shortcuts to the individual wiretap orders they got in the last century. But those are the breaks.
The really sad truth about VoIP, and its hurdling of tax regulation, is that those revenues must be made up somewhere. And with the Internet standing as the replacement for the voice network, the tax man is going to look at you harder-and-harder.
Clued-in was Intel adding former trade representative Charlene Barshefsky to its board. An outsider with unique knowledge of key issues facing the company - that's what corporate governance is all about.
Clueless are the makers of the Sims online game for tossing a muckraking journalist. They're going to find that even virtual societies need checks and balances.
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