Linux, AOL/TimeWarner, and the future of computing
Michael D. Thomas
mdthomas at mindspring.com
Sat Mar 23 00:27:58 EST 2002
> In Britain, when you sign up for cable you can also receive a certain number
> of email addresses for the family, which you can read and write on your TV
> screen. As Britain is still a largely PC-less country, this is a great way
> for the non-PC public (who generally have NO DESIRE to actually use a
> computer, but would quite like to communicate and browse) to get "wired".
I'd be interested in learning more about this -- is Sky Digital? Puts my
furniture hypothesis to the test!
This also highlights another important difference in the World Wide Web --
different parts of the world use the web quite differently and the differences
are culturally based. This brings Internationalization to a whole new level.
Anyone that has to do Internationalization for typical software UIs have run
in to the problems with German words being too long for the widget and having
to deal with text going the opposite way -- but these are trivial in the face
of developing truly internationalized web sites. For instance, in Japan a
significant percentage (possibly even a majority -- can't remember) access the
web over their wireless I-Mode phones. So then on top of dealing with
language, currency and date issues, you have to deal with radically different
form factors and resolutions.
One of my thoughts on this earlier was: "How do the billions of potential web
surfers worldwide get on the web in the coming years?" and the answer is: in
many different ways influenced by factors as much cultural as technical.
What's really interesting is how the predominant type of Internet access will
affect the evolution of the world's cultures. The Internet is as radical a
change in communication as the printing press, broadcast audio and broadcast
video. Already, the Scandanavians are getting really good at typing out
messages to each other on their cell phones....
Closer to home, the evolution of a TV based web with, perhaps, more emphasis
on interactive video and audio communication than textual communication,
presents some very interesting issues far beyond web design and the technical
issues revolving around the redesign of thousands of sites.
I.e., will we exchange the Digital Divide for the Resolution Divide?
> While I agree with the resolution problems of TV sets, we have to remember
> that the masses who do not now own computers really don't want a "computer".
I don't think I know anyone not online, so I'm a bit hobbled in doing too much
market research here.
> They especially don't want something as hard to learn and non-intuitive and
> downright scary as most commercial software (MS or PC or Mac or whatever) is
Definitely agree. My original thought -- inspired by Josep's article and the
Oracle Network Computer initiative that dates back to 1996 -- was an Internet
Appliance with email and a web browser. The OS is a stripped down Linux, but
it would be as hard to tell that as it is to tell that a lot of ATM's run OS/2
(at least, the one I saw boot a few years ago did).
When you turn the appliance on you are ready to go. If you want something
fancier -- a word processor, spreadsheet, etc. -- go to the store. The ISP can
do network management to detect if anything goes wrong on the appliance and
since they are all the same it's easy to go to the local branch office and
swap them out. Data redundancy can be handled with POP3 and other mature
AOL/TimeWarner provides the appliance on the cell phone model -- you get the
appliance for free or for a low price, and the you sign a service contract.
AOL/TimeWarner can even enter the PC retail game just as you can get a high
end cell phone through your wireless carrier.
> One final point: if the AOL/Time Warner forces can really marshall the
> to create a cheap network appliance, might they also instead choose to
> a huge demand for HDTV's, thereby driving down the price? HDTV is only
> expensive because of the still quite small demand.
I think PBS and CBS are the only regular big broadcasters doing simulcasts in
HDTV, so I don't think there is much that AOL/Time Warner could do there. I
think HDTV demand will be driven first by DVDs and perhaps gaming and will
then hit some critical market mass where more broadcasters start to broadcast.
Then the HDTV price point comes down.
But still, the difference between TV and really-good-TV is incremental. The
difference between being offline and being online has a much larger impact for
the individual, society and the market.
> For the non-PC owners,
> it's more of a problem rearranging furniture to make room for some new
> "computer", rather than just using the current entertainment wall, which
> they've already planned for...
This is where I'm interested in the British experience.
...And I'm still dubious about someone sending an email to their buddy or a
middle schooler researching a paper in the living room. TV rooms just aren't
arranged for reading the TV, IMO. But then, this is why we hypothesize... and
CNN Headline News certainly doesn't share my opinion :-)
A more likely scenario -- a secondary TV away from the hubbub of the living
room is used for Internet browsing. If people want a better monitor, they can
get it just as you can get a fancier cell phone from your wireless
carrier..... And if a site isn't usable at those resolutions then it sits on
the high side of the Resolution Divide.
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