Yes, the conference focus was on hardware, and thats an important connection between the enterprise desktop and the family room. I recall a microprocessor conference, several years ago in San Jose, Calif., where one of the panel discussions turned to the question of next-generation TV: Whats good for TV watchers, the panelists all agreed, is even better for computing consumers. The rising expectations of TV buyers mean rising volume and falling cost for large flat-panel displays, massive high-speed storage and the kind of processing power that used to be the province of engineering workstations.
At another conference discussionI believe it was at the AMD forum on 64-bit computing at Comdex last Novemberone panelist suggested that the coming conversion to HDTV would actually end the era of TVs and PCs as separate devices. If you look at the signal-processing demands of HDTV, the argument went, it only makes sense that consumers will want to buy that kind of high-powered computing in a package that also handles advanced computer gaming and other media-intensive applications.
What Im really hoping to see, for that matter, is the Sun or Cisco box thats installed in a utility closetthe central bit pump, so to speakthat handles telephone, TV and Internet access as a unified system.
The TV in the family room will know when the phone rings and will quiet the TV if the phone is answered in the same room.
But thats a trivial trick that begs the question of how well design the next-generation computing experience. There are many more-substantial software challenges that users at home will expect to see solvedby means that enterprise developers will be quick to apply.
One of those challenges is linkage of content and action. Its possible, for example, to link TV programs with on-line shopping sites so retailers can offer you one-click purchase of an actress shoes in the scene thats currently playing or a copy of the novel that inspired the movie youre watching.
Were already seeing the outlines of this kind of linkage in Apples OS X, with its integration of the file search metaphor into online shopping and entertainment purchases. Thats also the core proposition, it seems to me, of Microsofts sales pitch for "Longhorn": Developers will find extensive communications infrastructure in that product to accelerate their use of the rich displays upfront.
Its easy to imagine enterprise applications of similar integration platforms and tools. A view of a factory floor or a retail store could be automatically linked to associated data: Click on a picture showing the line of cash registers in a supermarket, and see an animated diagram showing the rate of transaction processing by each of the checkout clerks currently on duty; click on the picture of a factory machine, and see a pop-up window with its current performance and upcoming maintenance data.
But the flip side of the challenge is making things simpler while they are getting richer. At the San Jose panel that I mentioned earlier, one participant voiced skepticism about the whole idea that TV watching would become an interactive experience. "After a couple of six-packs, any user interface more complex than loud, soft, channel up and channel down is too much," she argued.
My own attention is pretty much fully invested in the kind of interface that we have today. I wont be able to do more if it means that I have to think more or control more. Perhaps we need to borrow another key idea from the world of entertainment: the label of "boob tube."
It may not be an inspiring vision of where were going, but perhaps it will remind us to keep complexity under control.
Technology Editor Peter Coffee can be reached at email@example.com.Check out eWEEKs Developer & Web Services Center at http://developer.eweek.com for the latest news, reviews and analysis in programming environments and developer tools. Be sure to add our eWEEK.com developer and Web services news feed to your RSS newsreader or My Yahoo page:
Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at salesforce.com, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developers' technical requirements on the company's evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter company's first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.