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Playing games with the future of the Internet

By Scott Bradner

More than a few people made a pilgrimage to Tokyo on March 4th. Most of them were only after the most realistic way to date to cut a monster up and see the blood splatter. But at the same time they may have seen a representative of a big part of the future of the Internet.

Sony introduced its newest PlayStation2 game machine on March 4th and by the end of the weekend had sold about 980,000 units for the equivalent of $370 each. CNN and other news organizations interviewed people who had flown in from the US just to get a copy. In response Microsoft preannounced, by a year and a half or more, its own entry into the fray: the prosaically named X-Box which will be Microsoft's first computer. By next year Sony will have a broadband Internet adapter available for the PlayStation2 which could quickly make it the most prevalent Internet device since Sony expects to sell 8 million or so in Japan by the end of the year. The PlayStation2 is expected to go on sale in the US and Europe this autumn where many millions more will be sold by the end of the Christmas buying season.

The PlayStation2 is an example of a new generation of game machines that will be much more than game machines. It can play CDs and DVDs and will include a web browser that can support basic WWW access. It will also have support for Internet-based multi-player games. Microsoft had to react. If web browsing becomes just another game on an under $400 device plugged into a TV then Microsoft's WebTV and software for home computers are threatened. As described, the X-Box is an impressive device with a 600 MHz CPU, 300 MHz graphics processor, 64 MB of memory, DVD and 8 GB disk drive. It puts the PlayStation2 to shame, but it is not due to go on the market until late 2001 (assuming it ships on time, a semi-warranted assumption at best with Microsoft products) which should give Sony a chance to develop a PlayStation3.

But, as described, the Internet of the PlayStation2 is not the Internet of its fathers. It is an Internet that has far fewer features, applications and possibilities. It is the web as the Internet. Sony is not alone in meaning "web" when they say "Internet." There are a few companies promising "free Internet" when they mean free web. (By the way, it's only "free" if you do not value your time reading all the ads.) This simplification is a major part of the future of the 'Net and we will lose because of it. We will lose a big part of the ability to innovate and come up with the ideas that will lead to PlayStation10.

disclaimer: Harvard is still working on Harvard1 so the above is my observation.