From PC to RC?

The Consumer Electronics Show held yearly in Las Vegas has become one of the world’s major computer shows the last couple years. This ought to tell you something.

Looking at what many of the computer mavens are trying to sell you tells you more.

They’re trying to get out of the computing business and into the entertainment business.

Don’t take what I just said too literally; Intel isn’t going to buy HBO tomorrow. They’ll still make computers, but those computers aren’t really meant to be computers as we’ve understood them to be during the PC era.

No, the PC is supposed to turn into an RC: Recreation Control. That’s the only way you can read initiatives like Microsoft’s Media Center.

Auditioning For A New Role

First, there was the PC, and most people said, “For work, fine, but what can I do with one at home that will justify spending thousands of dollars on one?” For a long time, there was no good answer to that.

Next came the Internet, which answered that question for many people. The Internet made the PC a communications tool, a hypercheap one.

That in itself was a revolution (and one hardly finished), but the demands of the Internet are modest, and can hardly fuel a “buy a new PC sooner and more often than you buy a new TV” replacement cycle.

Even worse, just when computers have gotten fast enough for the average Joe, technological limitations largely take away the “faster, faster, faster” mantra the PC industry has so relied on. While this will take years to sink into the head of the average Joe, eventually, it will sink in.

So now what? What could the computer companies do to keep Joe buying?

Hello, Recreation Control.

The concept behind all this is: It’s a big digital entertainment world out there, with all kinds of information and all kinds of standards and all kinds of devices that don’t play well together now. What you need is a ringmaster to handle all the players, and lets you just sit back and enjoy.

And they have just the thing, an enhanced PC capable of playing your digital coordinator. And they’ll tell the Sixpack world that since these duties are incredibly complicated and involved (believe us, you don’t want to know), they’ll have to come up with new kinds of PCs to handle these new, heavy, burdens, and you’ll need to buy them.

Or so they hope.

Digital Coordinator or Digital Cop?

Of course, the idea that a PC can be used as a digital entertainment center is hardly a stunning revelation to most reading this. At least tens of millions of PC are now entertainment centers, at least some degree.

One small problem, of course, just about all of today’s entertainment centers are fueled by stolen merchandise, and that’s . . . uh . . . illegal.

It may take more than a while for the snails in the various legislatures to realize this, but inevitably, they will come to the realization that DRM is their only chance to break this without setting up P2P Gulags.

When they do, take three guesses who’ll be ready for the role of digital cop?

P2P Hardware?

Computer electronics manufacturers, seeing what happened in the PC world, have been loathe to welcome Microsoft into their domains, seeing them as Redmond Geeks bearing the gift of a new Trojan horse. That’s been the case with cellphones, it will probably be the case with digital entertainment devices.

For one thing, fairly or not, when you think “something that just works all the time without any effort on my part,” the words “Microsoft Windows” doesn’t usually come to mind.

When DRM hits the fan, even if everyone has to adopt it, ideologically, MS is likely to take a disproportionate amount of the blame for this, partly because they play a leading role in what will likely be the DRM standard of the future, and partly because many just love to hate MS.

More importantly, it’s hard to see why you NEED a PC to function as a $1,000 switch just to transfer songs from one place to another. It’s like getting a bulldozer to do some light cleaning. Why can’t the little devices just talk to each other? You have to provide the necessary circuitry and standards from them to talk to the PC anyway; why not just talk directly to each other when that’s what you want to do. Why get the PC involved?

Yes, there are other things a PC can do, but nothing that a little beefed-up circuitry here, a hard drive there in the devices can’t handle. All you need are standards, not a PC.

Yes, for some, having a centralized traffic control would be handy, but, for just one example, will Junior really want whatever he’s doing or seeing passing through Mom and Dad’s PC?

Take these all together, and one suspects that while the future of computing will be digital stuff flying around all over the house; it’s not likely to be as centralized or PC-dominated as MS would like to see it.


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