What would be a good, useful consumer product? Not another social network, that is for sure. But what about a social network made up of the meters, gauges and thermostats that reside in your home? That would be a useful network, and I saw the early stages of it last week at the CeBIT show in Hannover, Germany.
While there have been many attempts at building home-control systems over the years-in particular, the ZigBee wireless network-an agreement announced at CeBIT between Microsoft and German company Yello Strom warrants a closer look. The agreement marries Yello's smart electricity meters with Microsoft's software, allowing consumers to measure, monitor and manage their electricity use.
I usually don't write about consumer electronics, but the smart home power system under the Yello Sparzahler name is an example of Europe's growing power as a technology innovator. As Steve Ballmer said in his keynote address, "CeBIT is one of the world's most important technology events."
Each year I attend this show, and this year Europe matters more to U.S. vendors and customers than ever before. Here's why: While Brazil, Russia, India and China are large, emerging markets, the European Union is a growing, economically vibrant market now.
How many other international federations can you name where there is a list of countries waiting to join? If you are not successful in Europe, you will not be successful, period. That is one reason I think Microsoft will pay a recent $1.4 billion EU antimonopoly fine without protesting too much.
The big technology trends are unfolding first in Europe. Europe is setting much of the technology agenda for the rest of the world. Green computing was not only the major theme of this year's CeBIT, but companies such as Yello are translating that interest into products that consumers and companies can buy and use, while accomplishing the twin goals of saving money and meeting environmental concerns.
A recent study by Accenture found that while U.S. companies are spending their IT dollars on security for older systems, tech execs in Europe and Asia are spending their money on deploying new systems from the ground up.
Ballmer used his CeBIT speech as a platform to talk about what he sees as the next computing revolution, the fifth in his 28 years at Microsoft. This time, the revolution will truly address the most complex issues we face, including health care, climate change and universal education opportunities, according to Ballmer.
The products and services being introduced at shows such as CeBIT are examples of a new world of computing that should re-energize the U.S. technology community as much as it is changing the European community.
Editorial Director Eric Lundquist can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.