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No Internet in here?


By Scott Bradner


From the reports I've seen, the recent Consumer Electronics Show was not worth the pain of being in Las Vegas to go to.  When the most reported-on innovation was Bill Gate's wrist watch you know something was missing in glitzville.  The Boston Globe's article on the show mentioned watches in passing but focused on what they called "dueling visions" of the control of living room of the future presented by Microsoft and Sony.  To me the visions, if they can actually be classified as "intelligent foresight" (as my dictionary defines vision), are virtually identical, hardly innovative, and will hopefully turn out to be mirages created by extreme nearsightedness.


The idea that I might want my living room controlled by either Microsoft or Sony strikes me as odd but I'm quite sure that both Microsoft and Sony are convinced that it is my heart's desire. The picture, as painted by the Globe, is that Microsoft wants the PC to be the gateway, or is it policeman, between the home and the world, and Sony wants that role to be played by the TV.  The Globe spent 27 inches of column talking about this "classic battle", as one of the people interviewed by the Globe put it, without mentioning a more important battle -- the battle to let you and me control what we see and do rather than becoming programmable automatons with the controls being in the hands of Microsoft or Sony with the copyright mafia directing both of them.


Microsoft has pursued this dream, I refuse to call it a vision, for years.  Realizing the model of PC-as-home-gateway/controller would lock them into a commanding position to dictate technology directions for years to come.  A few years ago, Sony seemed to have a different vision. They talked about making all of their home devices Internet-capable.  Each Sony TV, VCR, DVD player etc would be able to communicate over the Internet on its own.  But it now looks like they have succumbed to the same greed-blurred view of a single vendor-centric future.


Sony's old vision was not theirs alone.  Sony's old vision was the Internet.  You remember the Internet -- that network that let the user decide what applications to run and who to talk to.  The Internet is missing from the new model presented by Microsoft and Sony.  In their new model they will get to decide what gets through the gateway.  If they do not think an application will make them money they will have no reason to do the work needed to support it.  This model fits perfectly with the dreams of total control held by the copyright mafia.  They would just as soon make sure you pay for every bit that you get over the net and cannot conceive that someone might want to use the Internet for some purpose that did not include stealing their content. The ideal future in their mind is an Internet that is a Disney-controlled TiVo.  Microsoft and Sony seem eager to make that future come true. Kiss your Internet good-by if that comes to be.


disclaimer:  As you can tell from its' museums, Harvard hardly ever kisses things good-by, but the above dark view is my own.