Sun Microsystems and Microsoft continue to do battle for the dominant positions in the consumer electronics and home network markets. Over the next 20 years, these consumer markets could dwarf the business network and computer industries. But the consumer's requirements are different from those of the business user.
For the consumer, networking must be simple and transparent. And if the industry is able to achieve network simplicity for the consumer, then we'll see corresponding benefits in the business market.
In the near term, the home or remote network focus continues to be primarily on the home PC, set-top box and phone. But some visionaries foresee a future in which many more household appliances are network-enabled. Without significant changes in how networks and networked devices behave, though, we can't help but think about the potential nightmares that await the average household.
Think about today's networked devices in the business market. The more intelligent the device, the more difficult the problems. PCs, servers and routers are probably the most notorious, but printers and other single-function devices still have their share of troubles. The average business person has people to rely on to help troubleshoot and resolve problems. In large companies, whole IT groups are dedicated to designing and managing the devices in the network. Then there is a help desk just to support users.
Now imagine having most of the appliances in your home connected to a network. When a device is working, it's great. But how often will it malfunction or fail entirely? And what will you do then? Will every house keep a network equivalent of an address book, listing the IP address of each device and help desk numbers to call when each one fails?
Does the entire household have a single integrated operating system or does each device have its own, or both?
Can you imagine going through an operating system upgrade every year or two for all the devices in your home? Can't you just see it? You upgrade the main operating system in your home so that you can gain greater functionality and speed and more features for your phone, PC, TV, etc. And all of a sudden your relatively old refrigerator or air conditioner doesn't work because the new operating system isn't backward-compatible with the systems in these devices.
New cottage industry
We can't assume that each home will have an IT expert to design and manage the policy, security and integrity of the system. We can't hope that consumers will accept a whole new cottage industry designed to remotely manage the home network and make round-the-clock house calls when needed.
So we must assume that the home network appliance and the entire system will be much more interoperable, easier to implement and maintain, and significantly more transparent than networking is today.
So the desire for success in the high-stakes consumer market will drive companies into a plug and Play business model. The networking complexities we endure today won't be acceptable in the networked home or business of tomorrow.