On January 9th at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Michael Dell (Chairman and founder of the company that bears his name) and John Chambers (since 1995 CEO of Cisco, the world leader in telecommunications equipment), shared their vision of the future and their short- and medium-term strategy. Two visions inspired by consumer experience, totally in line with present trends, and above all, with strategies putting the network at the forefront of tomorrow’s communication and entertainment. A real American-style show for Michael Dell: his presentation very quickly emphasised the obvious backwardness of the USA in so far as "real broadband" is concerned: optic fibre in every household. Michael Dell addressed US equipment manufacturers and Internet providers, urging them to move forward faster in their efforts. In a world of global competition, American children must have the same opportunities for access as children across the world...
Let's not forget, in passing, that the OECD distinguished the services from French provider Free as being the best triple-play service on offer, and that the Pau Broadband project, initiated by Jean-Michel Billaut and launched in 2004, still ranks as an honourable precursor. Hurray! And a little statistical information from Michael Dell: in 2007, use of the YouTube bandwidth will be equivalent to that of the Web in the year 2000. So bring on the fibre, fast!
Of course, Michael Dell didn't just come to the CES to lay into the equipment manufacturers, whom he obviously needs. He came to talk about his new products and Dell's current projects. We learned of a new screen whose reception quality is that of an HD television, a new PC equipped with an HD TV tuner and a new cooling system that stops processors from overheating after several hours on World of Warcraft... Such are the new technical innovations.
Michael Dell then presented the new branded Dell on-line service that can be used for storing and saving all your personal data on external servers; they can then be accessed from any computer. A truly practical solution for migrating all personal data and other files onto a new PC.
Further presentations from the podium emphasised the innovatory nature of the company and its eagerness to respond to the needs of its customers: the design chief behind Blizzard video games presented the new version of World of Warcraft, and the Chairman of Alienware unveiled his new products.
Dell, however, is also an ethical company that cares about the environment, offering all its customers the possibility to recycle their old computers for free. But Dell is going even further, launching a "plant a tree for me" programme, which gives anyone going on the Dell web site, whether they make a purchase or not, the option of donating two dollars to plant a tree and thus play their part in reducing CO2 emissions.
Renowned American scientist, Naomi Hala, thanked Dell and its team for their support for cancer research, which should help her to launch the first non-toxic anti-cancer particle.
Well, you might say, nothing, so far, really exceptional in these technical innovations and ethical commitments. Did Michael Dell just come here to sell his products? Well, not entirely...Because if you think more carefully about these new innovations, and above all about their possible uses, his vision of tomorrow's web becomes clearer: tomorrow's web will work via the network. If you look at Michael Dell's vision and his analysis, you will see that the PC will become merely the entrance point to a network made up of interconnected elements, with data stored externally and accessible from any computer anywhere.
Nevertheless, this vision of an omnipresent web is not, in actual fact, all that original. You can already access your emails with a BlackBerry, watch your own TV channels or programmes that you have recorded at home from across the world with SlingBox, share your holiday photos or your on-line videos with YouTube, etc.
It was John Chamber's presentation that finally convinced me what my home would be like in a few years’ time. While Michael Dell presented his show with a revolving podium, actors, videos, and participants, when Cisco arrived we felt like we were at the theatre: a huge close-up stage showing an apartment with an imitation fireplace, a giant screen, an office, a child's room and even the inside of a car.
John Chambers asks us to follow him and look at tomorrow's web and above all what our day-to-day lives could be like in the not very distant future. With the help of Cisco's technical development manager, he leads us into a lifesize presentation and it is very believable! Five words to sum up tomorrow's world, or Cisco's "The Human Network": virtual, convergence, simplicity, openness and security. Just imagine this future world: you are driving home in your car; with your version 2.0 car radio you can choose any title in your personal library. OK, so far, nothing particularly new, except that the library in question is not in the car but on the web. When you get home, you have to switch off your favourite song right in the middle, but…your mobile phone rings and asks if you want to carry on listening with it. Once in the house, your media centre takes over, asking if you want to keep on listening and displaying the video on the giant video screen in your living room. Convergence and simplicity! Then you decide to sit down in comfort and watch a football match: your screen tells you that your best friend is also connected. A simple email and you can see him, chat with him, discuss the match with him and even suggest going together to your team's next match. You can even pay for the tickets on-line, they will be downloaded automatically to your mobile, which will give you access to the stadium. So now you really can use the word "virtual".
Whilst watching the match, you can record the latest episode of your favourite series on CBS: CSI Miami. In his bedroom your son also has access to the family network, but he cannot watch CSI Miami since, as it is unsuitable for children, his parents have used the parental control function to make it inaccessible to him. So - security. After the match, you chat with your best friend about your last holiday in Cancun. You both reminisce but, most importantly, you can share your videos and photos. As you are talking, you can let him access your photo and video galleries, which he can then download and watch on various screens in his house whilst you do the same in yours. Openness and sharing are no more than a click away...
As in Michael Dell's presentation, there is nothing particularly remarkable in the Cisco version of the near future, nothing which might seem impossible now. Yet, how many Sunday afternoons have you spent converting videos into a format that your friends can access, how many nights converting DVDs or CDs into digital format? That is what it’s really about: the digital age is over! First we had the analogue age, the age of electronics and the first VHS. Then the digital age began, with CDs and DVDs. This is now the network age, the age of shared experience.
In 2004, in an interview with the German magazine Bild, Bill Gates said that the television of the future would "certainly not work with DVD". "That technology will have disappeared in ten years at the most. When you think that even now you have to carry films or music around on little silver disks [...] it seems a little ridiculous", he prophesied. "These things can be wiped clean or simply lost." Quite right!