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No Internet in here?

Jan 20, 20033 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMicrosoft

The ideal future in the mind of Microsoft and Sony is an Internet that is a Disney-controlled TiVo. They seem eager to make that future come true. Kiss your Internet goodbye if that comes to be.

From the reports I’ve seen, attending the recent Consumer Electronics Show was not worth the pain of being in Las Vegas. When the most reported-on innovation was Bill Gates’ wristwatch, you know something was missing in glitzville.

The Boston Globe’s article on the show mentioned watches in passing but focused on what it called Microsoft’s and Sony’s “dueling visions” of control of the living room of the future. To me the visions – if they actually can be classified as “intelligent foresight” (as my dictionary defines “vision”) – are virtually identical, are hardly innovative and, I hope, will turn out to be mirages created by extreme nearsightedness.

The idea that I might want Microsoft or Sony to control my living room strikes me as odd, but I’m quite sure both companies 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 police officer?) between the home and the world. Sony, as reported, wants TV to play that role.

The Globe spent 27 inches of newspaper column talking about this “classic battle,” as one of the people interviewed put it. But the article failed to mention a more important battle – the one 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 the company into a commanding position to dictate technology directions for years to come. A few years ago, Sony seemed to have a different vision. Company executives talked about making all their company’s home devices Internet-capable. Each Sony TV, VCR and DVD player could communicate over the Internet on its own. But it now looks like Sony has succumbed to the same greed-blurred view of a single-vendor-centric future.

Sony’s old vision was not its 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 models that Microsoft and Sony present.

In their models, 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 goodbye if that comes to be.

Disclaimer: As you can tell from its museums, Harvard hardly ever kisses things goodbye, but the above dark view is my own.