On Friday, Gateway Inc. and America Online Inc. outlined their combined vision for the connected home and the technologies to enable it at a joint unveiling of the Gateway Connected Touch Pad. But they only beat Microsoft Corp. by a matter of days.
On Nov. 15, Microsoft will open the doors to its "Microsoft Home in New York," where it will demonstrate some of the Microsoft-backed networking tools and device technologies which will provide the same kind of totally wired home that Gateway and AOL showed today.
Like Gateway (gtw) and AOL (aol), Microsoft (msft) has been dabbling in the protocols, standards, and technologies needed to link PCs, consumer gadgets, and legacy devices on a home network. For several years, it has demonstrated a prototype "home of the future" at the Microsoft Home building on its main campus in Redmond, Wash.
In fact, the biggest differences between the Gateway/AOL and Microsoft strategies are the operating systems that run on PCs and other devices in the networked home.
Microsoft is building on a number of existing products, ranging from its recently introduced Windows Millenium Edition OS, to its MSN service, to Internet appliances based on its MSN Companion platform.
"We've had people working on home networking for quite a while," said Steven Guggenheimer, Microsoft's director of consumer strategies. "There are a lot of things you can do in the area of home networking already using our technologies, such as the PocketPC, MSN HighSpeed DSL service, and Universal Plug and Play (UPnP)."
In the company's ideal view of the world, the Microsoft-backed UPnP standard would be the backbone connecting gadgets and gizmos in the home. At this point, however, the networking technology is still in its infancy.
As a result, Microsoft also is backing other home networking standards, including the Home Phone Networking Alliance (HomePNA), wireless Ethernet, and Category 5 wire. HomePNA is broadband-networking technology designed to allow users to connect PCs and devices over existing phone lines. (Gateway also is betting on HomePNA, and said it will equip the appliances and most of its new home PCs with Broadcom Corp.'s (brcm) HomePNA networking chips.)
Windows Millennium Edition supports UPnP and HomePNA. HomePNA adapter kits are available today to allow multiple PCs to share a single home broadband connection, Guggenheimer noted.
Meanwhile, Gateway's UI of choice for its new appliances is Instant AOL, a simplified version of its AOL browser. At its unveiling of the Gateway Connected Touch Pad, Gateway demonstrated a family using AOL's e-mail, calendaring, and instant-messaging technologies both inside and outside the home, in order to stay in touch and keep up with each others' schedules.
For its operating system for appliances, Gateway has turned to Linux. Mobile Linux is an embedded variant of open-source Linux, tweaked specially for Internet appliances running on Transmeta Corp.'s Crusoe processors by Linux creator Linus Torvalds.
Torvalds is currently an employee of Transmeta (tmta), which is providing Gateway with the Crusoe processors for Gateway's next-generation appliances and devices. Mobile Linux includes proprietary extensions that support power management and file compression which Transmeta is not going to return to the open-source community.
Gateway plans to use Mobile Linux inside its newly introduced Touch Pad, Connected Music Player and forthcoming wireless web pad.