ABOVE THE NOISE: Preaching to the convergence choir

ABOVE THE NOISE: Preaching to the convergence choir

Digital religion is alive and well, and it’s coming to a watch, refrigerator magnet and robo-dog near you.

Consumer electronics and the tech industry at large have long been preaching doctrines that continue to look ever more similar, but the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas(CES) proved a regular merging of the faiths.

First came the double whammy of Apple and Microsoft keynotes. Bill Gates looked uncomfortable at the CES pulpit — it’s a good Las Vegas bet that was because Gates had been upstaged a day earlier by long time rival Steve Jobs at the Macworld Conference & Expo in San Francisco.

Apple is riding a new wave of popularity inspired by its embracing of disruptive technologies (including open source, 802.11g, and XML) and wrapping the technologies in its trademark intuitive software and sophisticated UI. Apple products now available, such as Keynote, iLife and the Titanium, are just plain cool.

You could also argue Microsoft’s FM network for delivering data to SPOT (Smart Personal Object Technology) devices is cool. But the jury is out on whether or not the yet-to-be released smart watches Gates announced will ultimately be followed by more interesting technologies that also permit the transmission of data.

Meanwhile, Panasonic has caught the digital bug in a big way, working with Microsoft to promote HighMAT (High-Performance Media Access Technology) as a standard for users to share media content between traditional consumer devices and PCs.

Intel boss, Craig Barrett, during his CES address, made it clear the devices coming down the pike mean that the digital tipping point is upon us: “The real issue is what can we do with [digital] technology? You want to manipulate it, you want to store it, and that’s where the PC really comes into its own.”

Incidentally, that message struck a nerve with Sony president and COO, Kunitake Ando, who used CES to push the TV as the all-controlling device in the home. “Television is being reborn as an always-on and interactive device,” Ando said. Forget about that comment as a legacy argument from a historic hardware manufacturer.

The real change is that users are feeling empowered by the strategies of the Apples and Nokias that understand the true meaning of “fair use” of digital content. Technology that fosters creative thinking - rather than Microsoft’s control-centered approach to Windows development - ultimately leads to new ideas that, in the enterprise’s case, are the seeds of innovation.

True, my family argues with me that a wired home is nothing more than geek heaven, but a generation of new ideas is emerging that will reshape large enterprise IT decisions. Linux and PDAs set precedents: both started out as creative projects pitched at enthusiasts and consumers, yet are now the subject of board-level IT decisions.

The digital believers preach that instant access to, and re-use of, any piece of corporate or personal data will therefore change the enterprise landscape. Time to keep a closer eye on those widescreen plasma TVs and smart screens that have started infiltrating your wired, PC-controlled office.

Mark Jones is executive news editor at InfoWorld. Contact him at

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