With two shows so close together, we thought we would wait until we had attended both CES and LinuxWorld and had a chance to digest them before writing a recap. CES was massive and LinuxWorld was more like Linux Street.
For the few of you who aren't familiar with it, CES, or the Consumer Electronics Show, is the premier event for everything electronic. Companies are exhibiting everything from PC's to home theatres to dishwashers (yes, we saw them too). It has eclipsed the fading Comdex show as the place to display and announce all those things that address everything except the Enterprise market space. This year's show was dauntingly large and the total experience depended on how much time and stamina you had.
LinuxWorld is supposed to be the showcase for all things Linux, both current and emerging. The show runs three days but scheduling only allowed us one. It was more than enough. We covered the exhibits and our briefings in less than half a day. We'll address this later on.
At CES, we weren't as struck this year by innovative products and surprises as we had hoped. In point of fact, it wasn't as much what we saw as what the shows exhibits implied. As we suspected, there was a tremendous amount of activity in all things screen oriented, be it plasma or LCD. Not unlike the PC industry itself, in the screen manufacturing industry there are a few chip manufacturers, several display manufacturers and hundreds of OEM's offering variations on the same theme. Our take on it? As costs come down and margins diminish, there's going to be a whole lot of consolidating going on.
[Editor's Note: Shortly after this article was posted Pioneer announced that it was acquiring NEC's plasma display businesses. That didn't take long!]
Flat Panels And Other Thin Things
Two new flavors of technology were introduced at the show. LG Philips LCD (a joint venture of L.G. Corp. and Philips LLC.) was showing its new IPS (In Plane Switching) technology. This new approach to LCD screens allows for a much wider viewing angle without noticeable loss of color or clarity. We had an opportunity to look at production prototypes of screens as large as 55". Impressive for an LCD. Color, clarity and brilliance were excellent as well as the viewable angle, which we unscientifically observed at angles that would equate to well over a 120° field of view. For a more in depth explanation of the technology, check out the LG Philips LCD site (http://www.lgphilips-lcd.com/en/technology/technique.html#46 ).
Intel announced its new display technology code named Cayley. Intel President and Chief Operating Officer Paul Otellini demonstrated the Liquid Crystal on Silicon (LCOS) technology that creates small 'microdisplays'. (For more on this technology click here (http://www.intel.com/design/celect/technology/lcos/index.htm) These microdisplays produce images with improved clarity and performance that can then be used on large screen rear projection TVs. What's most exciting is the anticipated new LCOS chips will allow for large screen HDTV capable systems at under $2000. There's that magic number we mentioned in our last article.
In a related product introduction, RCA and Infocus announced their new collaboration and release of a new thin profile rear projection DLP HDTV's. These sets go up to 61" and are less than 7" deep. They are positioned to be competition for the plasma and LCD equivalents in that they can be hung on the wall. The picture quality is very good, but not quite at the level of Plasma. Still, I wouldn't mind watching the Super Bowl on one.
LCD manufacturers were everywhere, as were the screens themselves. We saw them hung on walls, in frames, in car dashes, on the back of car seats, hung under kitchen cabinets….you get the idea. I'm waiting for someone to put one in the bottom of a coffee cup so you can watch while you sip.
Innovations, Gizmos & Gadgets
At the opposite end of the size spectrum were some interesting bits of innovation and technology that really caught our interest. Several companies (Creative Labs, Samsung and others) introduced a new form factor in personal video recorders and players. These devices are only 5.75" wide and 3" high. They contain multi-gigabyte hard drives to which you can copy your favorite movie so that you can watch it on the plane, in the back seat of the car or while occupied in the 'library'. They're small, light and somewhat impressive. The 'somewhat' is because after the novelty wears off, there is a real question as to whether you really want to watch "The Lord of the Rings" on a 3" screen. I'm sure it will be a huge hit with the under 25 crowd.
One of the few things that really impressed us was a variation on that same theme! Two companies, OQO Inc. and Antelope Technologies, are introducing two new form factors to the PC space. OQO's entry, the OQO (and how do you pronounce that?) is a fully capable ultra-personal computer or uPC. It's pocket size, similar to a PDA, but with an 800x480 5" screen and runs a full version of Microsoft Windows XP on a Transmeta processor. For more on this incredible little device go to http://www.oqo.com/hardware/basics/. Don't miss the video!
Antelope Technologies (http://www.antelopetech.com) was showing its Mobile Computer Core or MCC. As its name implies, this 3"x5" device is the guts or core of your computing experience. The CPU (also Transmeta), memory, hard drive, video and audio are all bundled into a small sealed package which easily slips into a handheld shell complete with screen and batteries, or into a desktop docking station for use with an external keyboard and monitor. The concept here is that the core is what's important. What you attach it to depends on the job requirements. It's a promising concept that I believe we will see more of as components continue to shrink while power and battery life increases.
Can You Hear Me Now?
Yes, cell phones and accessories were everywhere. Some had bigger screens. Many had cameras. Only one was particularly novel. The folks at Wildseed
(http://www.wildseed.com/index.htm) were showing off their 'Smart Skin' technology for wireless phones. These are intelligent shells based on various branding schemes that have chips built in that interface with the phone. The result is a 'theme' phone with any type of fashion, sport or other motif you can imagine. The nice thing is, you can change the shells on a whim thereby creating a whole new look, personality and functionality for the phone. The skins are a three-sided wrap-around that fits snugly around the phone body. Sort of like a 'telephone taco'.
If I Were Speaking, Would You Listen?
MP3 Players. We never thought we'd be writing about them. As a toy to play tunes they're cute, but there was never anything in the technology or function that was worth more than a passing note, until now. We actually saw a few models that had some purpose (other than drowning out outside noise). MP3 players are incorporating all sorts of memory tricks including multi-gigabyte capacity in a tiny form factor. What makes them interesting is that a few manufacturers have begun to add voice-recording capability. Now you can dictate your letters or record that Sociology lecture in between tracks.
Media Servers And The Home Enterprise
There were two interesting developments in this area. One was the release of Microsofts Windows XP Media server 2. This is a next step in the evolution of Home Enterprise software. A number of new features were added that make the system a little more friendly and flexible. A few, such as phone call notification and silent personal video recording (which wakes the PC from Standby to record shows) are reminiscent of what is available from satellite TV providers today. A full list of features can be found at http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/mediacenter/evaluation/whatsnew.asp.
Microsoft also introduced the concept of Media Extenders, which are effectively wireless links between the server and other devices. Product offerings from a number of venders should be announced soon. This is not a new concept. Other companies such as ViXS (http://www.vixs.com) produce chip sets and solutions for dual stream 802.11a HD video feeds. The list of OEM partners who are constructing Microsoft Media Servers is expanding a little and we look forward to seeing what innovations will turn up next.
In alternative opportunities, we did see Media centers built on a Linux O/S and some surprising new players in this space that is becoming the hot center of the Home Enterprise. That was the source of the second interesting development. Denon, (http://www.usa.denon.com/) a manufacturer known for its mid and high end audio and home theatre equipment, introduced its own media server at the show, and it was quite impressive.
The model NS-S100 uses Mediabolics M1 Entertainment Operating Platform (http://www.mediabolic.com/m1/). This is proprietary embedded middleware that allows for the effective management and networking of electronic devices. The net result is a seamless, user-friendly experience. Denon is definitely on the right track with this system. It incorporates a dual hard drive server with a removable disk. This eliminates the problem of having one too many shows stored on your PVR (personal video recorder). Sharing and 'pooling' devices is another capability that Denon has included. The result? Multi-room viewing capabilities of stored or live content with full PVR control. This is the direction we expect media servers to take, but we'll discuss that in future articles.
The emerging Home Enterprise was well represented. There were a myriad of wired and wireless devices to connect, record, archive, control and view almost every aspect of our environment. Expect to see more devices like the new Media Extenders, and appliances to work with them in the very near future (and our perspectives on them).
As we alluded at the beginning of the article, this was a very small show. The biggest difference was the emergence of the very large booths for some of the major vendors such as IBM, HP and Novell etc. This was heartening as it indicates a more mainstream position for the corporate Linux universe.
The most interesting item for us was Novell's presence along with SuSe, vis-a- vis the recent acquisition of same. Novell is betting the farm here. They are making no bones about the fact that Linux is where they see the future. They are quickly dealing with portability and compatibility issues and will be releasing numerous products over the next few months. Of particular interest to us was the future of GroupWise. Why? This is one of the few solid tools available for group email and scheduling that isn't prey to constant worms and viruses. It is only used in a small portion of today's businesses, but in adapting it to Linux and marketing it in the SMB space in addition to the Enterprise arena, it could get a major second wind.
SCO - If you can't beat em' Sue em'
I'm not going to delve into this can of worms more than toe deep. There's a lot in print and on line about this situation and our perspective on it was made clear in the last installment. However, I have to mention here what was without question one of my favorite quotes from LinuxWorld. Novell chairman and CEO Jack Messman in his address said, "It seems that litigation has now become SCO's principal line of business." Jack, I couldn't have said it better!
It's What You Don't See
A lot of Linux's uses are in embedded and appliance type devices. Most people aren't aware of it but items like TIVO operate on a Linux O/S. There are also numerous PDA's and other devices. These were evident at the show, but only in out of the way places. That's a shame because with its small open source footprint, Linux is a natural in this space.
Another thing we didn't see enough of was applications and tools for the desktop. There was a lot of corporate server and back office software to be found, but the desktop arena was sorely lacking. Certainly the obvious argument of lack of developers can be made, but the point is that more should be done to market the potential. Developers, open source or not, are going to spend their time where they can make the best living.
The Linux community, its supporters and investors, must do whatever it takes financially to make this market attractive. This is a major hurdle that Linux must deal with before it will be a serious presence in the more ubiquitous desktop marketplace
Microsoft and Intel have the right idea. They are inserting their presence everywhere. Both companies' recent moves indicate that they do not intend to be complacent or satisfied with their current markets and are expanding into more consumer and appliance spaces. Microsoft wants to see its O/S in your set top box and managing the digital rights. Intel, who has expanded into wireless technologies and hand held devices, is exploring the 'entertainment PC' concept (basically a media center) and is involved in the Digital Home Working Group, which is all about standards-based digital home products (more fodder for the 'Home Enterprise').
Linux can be a part of all of this. The question is which company or companies will step up to spearhead the effort? It is a vast and growing market opportunity that shouldn't be missed. The answer, unfortunately, was not apparent at this year's show.