The CES show has kicked off with the Windows Home Server as a headliner and the most striking thing is the language used by tech's titans. To wit:
--Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates' keynote touches on the need for home servers as the software giant rolled out a bevy of products. Everyone is going to want one and these servers are going to simplify your life. Gates says:
"This Windows Home Server is for homes where you've got either multiple PCs, or Xboxes, the case where you want to have your storage available at all times to the different devices."
--HP chimes in with its "little iron" concept for the home, technically still a server--a MediaSmart one (spec sheet).
--NextGen Home Experience details how the next generation house will operate. The catch: Ed Bott reports there's $100,000 in wiring and automation equipment behind the scenes. Think of a mainframe next to the heat pump in the basement.
Add these comments up and one thing becomes clear: IT giants are trying to impose their will on the digital living room. And it isn't going to work because the industry can't even put their vision into plain English. Memo to marketers: The least you could do is come up with something better than Home Server (see prototype). Try Home Hub or something. You'd think this would be marketing 101. For example, no one wants to buy an MP3 player, but consumers will swarm to an iPod. The latter says "buy me" to consumers, the other appeals to gear heads.
Bottom line: The digital living room vision outlined on Sunday doesn't scream simplicity. Just look under the hood of the Home Server. You are never going to walk down the street and say to someone, "wow that's a cool home server." There are very few people who want to play network administrator on the weekend.
Gates may say Apple has trouble ahead, but Steve Jobs and company get the simplicity thing. Sure, it's a complicated tech world, but the job of vendors is to simplify things.
I have little faith that these home servers, networking of various devices and vision of a digital living room is going to happen in the next 10 years as laid out by Gates & Co. The whole concept makes Apple's commercials look like documentaries.
Sure, you could argue that Microsoft's home servers are going to focus on homes with multiple PCs, but even that seems like a tough sell. For instance, I have a multiple PC home but I'm also a card-carrying member of PWHNPAVCR (people who have never programmed a VCR). Yes, folks it's always a blinking midnight at my house. It's complicated and I have better things to do.
Apparently, folks with more technology skills are also a bit skeptical.
In the end, no one knows for sure how the digital living room will develop--that's part of the reason why companies like Microsoft are placing bets everywhere--but simplicity is going to win. No one who wants to watch the Sopranos is going to wrestle with a server to deliver the goods.
Perhaps Apple has a better plan. Or maybe Sony gets its act together. One thing is certain--no company is going to win by bringing IT terms and complexity to your living room.