WinHEC is the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference, and while Longhorn, Microsofts next version of Windows, remains the big topic, this is a hardware show—and one of the few times we get to look at what is coming in hardware. And it appears we are about to see a major change.
The hardware vendors have been increasingly concerned that they arent developing customer loyalty, particularly at the device level. Even with Hewlett-Packard and printers, where the loyalty appears greater than anywhere else, there was a wake-up call when Dell was able to shift the folks it sold to over to Dell-branded products.
To add insult to injury, HP doesnt perceive Lexmark, which builds for Dell, to be even in the same ballpark with regard to industrial design and features.
As a result, WinHEC is showcasing a renewed interest in Web services targeted at hardware, and Microsoft is making the fix part of its core messaging for WinHEC. What the related initiatives promise are a much better user experience and a greater amount of customer loyalty than the market has enjoyed before—and perhaps a new realization by the device makers that the Internet can play a more active role in creating a community of advocates for them.
The goal is to connect every device, whether it is networked or PC-attached, to a set of services that will seamlessly provide driver updates, firmware patches and connectivity to those who need to use them. This means that users, and administrators, would simply have to plug in the device. With the services enabled, it would basically take care of itself.
It would announce its presence and local users would immediately gain access; shared devices would be much simpler to enable; and should a patch be needed, it would automatically be applied based on default policies or on those set by the IT administrator using a centralized tool set.
Selling Management Services
This means the devices themselves would become smarter, and the vendors could sell, or bundle, services for managing them to consumers and small to midsize business owners. These services, in some cases, could actually subsidize the devices and anticipate their replacement, helping to better tie the user to the vendor and hopefully create more vendor loyalty.
There is a risk that ISPs might step in and do this cross-vendor, but they probably would choose to aggregate the vendors services instead, much like its done today with cable and satellite suppliers and content.
The initiative itself is wrapped in words such as UPnP-2.0 and PnP-X, and falls underneath an SDK (Software Developers Kit) I can actually remember, called “Network-Connected Device DDK.” Backing it are firms such as Intel, Lexmark, Ricoh and HP—which is actually demonstrating it onstage at the show. Given the number of devices I have here in the Enderle house of technology, I can hardly wait until my wifes printer will fix itself.
As with most things from WinHEC, adoption is at least 12 months off, and the real value probably wont arrive until Longhorn is here. But it sure is nice to know that the hardware vendors have discovered the Internet—and that theyll attempt to use it to bring us the appliance experience we were promised more than a decade ago and are still awaiting.
From time to time, it is nice to see progress moving in the right direction. But as always, I just wish it would happen more often, and when it does, that it would move a little faster.