Broadband bribes

I don't usually talk about Microsoft in this column, something I'm sure you're grateful for, but I'm now going to break that golden rule. Clearly Microsoft isn't a telecommunications company, but two development avenues the software giant is pursuing have implications for that world.

I don’t usually talk about Microsoft in this column, something I’m sure you’re grateful for, but I’m now going to break that golden rule. Clearly Microsoft isn’t a telecommunications company, but two development avenues the software giant is pursuing have implications for that world.

First off we got to see a demo of Windows XP, Microsoft’s latest operating system due for release in October. There will be a big push with this one marketing-wise, so get ready for saturation advertising, TV camera crews in Whitcoulls at midnight and the whole promotional shebang. All the PC manufacturers will get in behind XP because you’ll probably need to upgrade your PC for this 128MB-minimum puppy.

Pretty much everything you’ll ever need is built into the operating system. Honestly, I never thought an operating system would need a media player but there it is, along with tools that will allow you to import data from a device.

This could be a CD player, MP3 player, a digital camera or even the internet, from which the data can then be exported to another device, including a printer that works nearby. That’s right: as part of the OS you get the promise of e-commerce. Take those snaps of your nephew playing with Play-Doh and have them delivered electronically to a developer and be billed via Microsoft’s Passport personal authentication service. You can pick them up on your way home after work. That’s assuming these companies sign up and have back-end systems that integrate with WinXP, of course. Built-in features: Messenger lets you instantly message friends and colleagues around the world; there’s a firewall; and Passport lets you enter your data once and not bother with all those pointlessly annoying forms that insist on you entering a street address and zip code, even if you don’t have one and aren’t getting anything delivered.

The other session we attended recently was about Microsoft’s .Net “web services” strategy and its implications. The demo showed a travel website where you can book your ticket, find out about visas and regulations, check your medical status against known risks for that region and find out about government warnings for that country. It doesn’t store all of this information itself; your medical records stay with your doctor and so on. It uses XML to draw all the threads together as and when they’re needed.

Regardless of whether you approve of the whole integration or .Net strategy — and I have questions about privacy on an ongoing basis — this is going to happen. Millions of users will go out and buy new machines with XP on them and site developers will subscribe to the .Net philosophy and that means one thing: bandwidth.

Microsoft knows this — it’s been investing in companies like Qualcomm and it’s doing some interesting things with traffic patterns and offline work to help alleviate the problem — but bandwidth’s still going to be a concern and now is the time to start planning. Most of the tools and toys that come bundled with XP will need an “always on” connection, if not a higher speed, and that’s just going to be the kickstart that broadband in the consumer area really needs.

Whether we get the demand before the supply or vice versa will be an interesting bet but either way it’s got to be delivered. Which raises another issue — consumers. To date, the great unwashed have been barely touched on by broadband initiatives. For all the fibre laying, satellite launching and marketing campaigns from the telcos, I’d say the majority of it is aimed at the juicy business end of the market. That’s where the money is to be made. Apart from DSL from Telecom and resellers and Ultra from Ihug, both of which are still quite costly, there’s not a lot out there. This will have to change, and I for one can’t wait.

Brislen is IDGNet’s reporter. Send email to Paul Brislen. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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