Hi there. 

Thanks to Chris Lanier and Ian Dixon, I now have a blog, which gives me the opportunity to share my views, perspectives and advocacy with the Windows Media Center community.  So, thanks to both of them! 

As a long-time contributor to the online forums (TheGreenButton, primarily), many in the community probably know a bit about me.  But for those who don’t, I’ll take a few lines to provide some brief background on me.   Then, I’ll move right into what people care about: Media Center!

I’m Jon Deutsch (yes, that’s the “Jon” in “Jon’s Digital Dreams”), and I have a passion for elegant, functional and useful innovations.   My background is actually quite varied, and includes technology & computer science, music & electronic music composition, communications & writing/blogging, user experience, branding & marketing, political messaging, and leadership & management.  In addition, I love traveling and seeing the world.  Oh, and I really enjoy learning, debating and inspiring.

This background converges into my passion for Windows Media Center, amongst other fantastic technologies and innovations that help give me a kick out of life.  This same background, however, also helps me see “missing pieces” in strategies, opinions and decisions that can be difficult to sit back and idly observe.   As a result, I am drawn to jumping in to the conversation to help complete the picture, dream up solutions, or at least analyze the situation so that others might gain some new perspectives.

And jump in is what I plan to do in this blog.  Whenever something inspires or irks me enough to step up and share, you’ll see them right here in Jon’s Digital Dreams. 

With that, let me kick things off with my first topic:  Windows Media Center – TV on your PC, PC on your TV, or something else entirely?

Chris Lanier has made quite a buzz around Microsoft’s positioning of Windows Media Center (WMC) of late.  The “TV on your PC” positioning does seem like an arrow through the heart for many of us “10 footers” (those of us who watch WMC — exclusively in full screen mode — on a traditional TV using a remote control) who really see the value of WMC as a home media hub for our entire homes, including our TV/family rooms — via the “10 foot interface.”   For 10-footers, the very notion of watching TV on a PC seems antithetical to the 10-foot interface.   What the “10 footers” really want is to replicate the set-top box (STB) experience, but with all the power and awesomeness of the Windows Media Center platform.  

Which brings us to “PC on your TV.”  From Microsoft’s perspective, that’s what many of us “10 footers” are doing today… plugging in a PC into an HDTV and displaying a software application on our TVs.  Of course, this really isn’t at all what we’re meaning to do (what we’re meaning to do is to simulate and improve upon a traditional TiVo/STB experience), but literally, that is what we’re doing.  

Then there are the “client/server” folks, who have an “office PC” that acts as the WMC server, and deploy extenders (clients) throughout their home as WMC STBs.   This, I surmise, was the primary use case that Microsoft had in mind when originally architecting the WMC experience.   When looking at extender sales, it’s probably easy for Microsoft to conclude that this approach was not setting the world on fire.  (Of course, the strategy might have worked, but there were a lot of mistakes made in the execution that I’m sure will come up in future posts)

So, if you rudimentarily look at these three approaches, and you’re Microsoft management looking for a relevant market position today, it’s understandable that Microsoft would choose “TV on your PC,” because it’s undeniable that most people do not really want a PC in their family rooms (i.e., “PC on your TV”), and we already know that extenders (i.e., client/server) were serving a niche audience.   As it stands right now, the only mass-market appeal for WMC is “TV on your PC” because everyone uses their PC as a PC, and only we, the 10-footer’s, use our PCs on our TVs. 

So, why does this matter?  Because this could either be a directional position (something that Chris has been publicly fretting about), or a tactical positioning that satisfies the more immediate needs of an organization to define a market and serve that market now, with what is available now.

So, could all the hubbub around “TV on your PC” simply be the marketing equivalent of Windows Mobile 6.5 — an interim fix to keep something relevant and interesting while they invest in a more hopeful future?   I suspect it is.  And this is where the speculation game becomes either fun or frantic. 

Media Center is at a cross-roads.   It’s the most robust, mature, and elegant media management system on the market that has native support for Digital Cable.   The forthcoming Win7 version is garnering good reviews online (here, here, and here for starters).  Yet, it’s not all that ready for the digitally-connected age of streaming video, including seamless access to YouTube, Hulu and other huge online media broadcast firms.   It doesn’t have built-in PodCast or VlogCast management or playback tools.  It’s not delivered in a form-factor that is family-friendly, it has no “app store” where 3rd parties can monetize their innovations, the extender strategy is in flux, and, ultimately, it appears to be lacking a mission.   Oh, I could go on, but I gotta leave some reason for future posts!

The $10,000 question is: What is Microsoft’s Digital Dream for managing and delivering media to the home?

I suspect their dream includes WMC, but not exclusively WMC.  It’s just too good to put down, but it’s also not good enough to be everything to everyone.   It will likely evolve into new forms and enter markets that we’re not entirely comfortable with.   Yet, a rapid evolution into a defined market is crucial for the sustainability of WMC as a (pseudo)product.  

And while we can expect WMC to evolve to keep it relevant, it’s doubtful that Microsoft will be able to maximize WMC’s potential.   I say this because I see huge potential for this platform.  I see its potential being no less than the iPhone of home entertainment.   But there are several crucial pieces missing that are required for home domination, and I’m not yet convinced Microsoft as an organization has the skills, philosophy and organizational culture to fill in these gaps.

Future installments of Jon’s Digital Dreams will outline some of the pieces that are missing that get in the way of realizing “the dream,” in addition to providing commentary and analysis on important developments in the world of WMC. 

Ultimately, my goal is to engage the WMC community in great discussions and debates around this fantastic — and fantastically frustrating — product.   I look forward to it!

To kick things off, I invite readers to pose questions or post opinions in the comments area.  I plan on using your feedback as fodder for future posts.


0 thoughts on “Dreaming in Digital”
  1. Welcome Jon – good to have you onboard.

    I believe 7MC is a platform but I’m not yet sure what for šŸ™‚

  2. A few thoughts.

    Re: TV on the PC
    When Hulu runs an ad during the Superbowl you can bet that there’s a market out there for TV on your PC.

    I’ve frequently found myself with a laptop in bed or in the den streaming shows from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and many of the TV networks.

    For a lot of college students, their PC is their TV.

    Imagine when those “cheap” little Netbooks will be more capable of streaming video.

    Re: 10 footers

    You’re probably aware that HD TVs are going to be (or are) on the market that have things like Netflix and Blockbuster “embedded” on the device.

    My hunch is that it’s only a matter of time for these things to be powerful (and affordable) enough to be your media center too.

    I mean, heck, just look at the 24″ iMac.

  3. DaveD,

    re: Hulu confirming the market for “TV on your PC” — there’s no doubt that this is a required option to have it work on laptops, netbooks, etc. However, there are two additional pieces to consider:

    1. Since Hulu is essentially only available via the PC, it’s hard to assess how relevant it is/would be in other scenarios. Just because it’s proven to be effective as TV on your PC does not disprove the alternatives as viable.

    2. Hulu represents a new media broadcaster — internet-based streaming. WMC is firmly rooted in the old media model: OTA, cable, and digital cable. While certainly not sexy or interesting for the media or lead-uesrs to opine about, it still represents something like 95% of viewer content. Until we completely transition (5-10 years?), there is a solid place for deep support for “old school” content distribution technologies.

    re: 10-footers

    I’m not a huge believer in the embedded functionality in TVs. Today, we get widgets, tomorrow, maybe more. But the whole firmware solution (vs. software) just isn’t flexible enough to bake into a TV. Today, widgets let you access Flickr via your TV directly. Lovely… if you use Flickr. What if you use Photobucket or KodakGallery?

    I see the need for a common platform that supports plug-ins/apps that enable content providers to expose their content in a consistent fashion. And, just like Windows (and the iPhone), consumers, software firms and content providers will all benefit from a dominant platform.

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