The Microsoft -- Yahoo -- Google contest got off to a quick start this year at CES. Each company was there making keynote speeches at CES. A few years ago it might have seemed odd for software companies to be making the big announcements at CES. If you think about it though, in the world of hardware/gadget/convergence, the hardware has really been there for awhile. Sure Intel and AMD are making some nice innovations for mobile and media based systems , but its simply the perfecting of existing technologies. No, the hardware for the "digital lifestyle" has been there. The software has not been, and hence software makers are now in the spotlight at CES. Here's my thoughts on what The Big Three had to say and show.
- Microsoft -- The only thing "new" was Urge, Microsoft's MTV backed entry into selling digital music. This just seems like a waste of money by MSFT. We just got through a holiday season that saw ridiculous iPod sales. People who own iPods are only going to buy digital music from iTunes. Urge, like Yahoo's music store, seems like a Napster style service offering subscription. This has its merit, but it won't be enough. MSFT also had some interesting things to say about their software in cars and mobile phones, and announced an HD-DVD player for the XBox 360. Yawn.
- Yahoo -- Yahoo announced their Go service for the Desktop, Television, and Phone. This sounds pretty interesting and a nice way to leverage their purchase of Konfabulator. Go for the TV sounds a lot like Apple's, which is cool. I also like the idea of having Konfabulator Widgets on cell phones. Seems like there won't be a lot of cell phones capable of this at least for awhile.
- Google -- Ah, Google. Their big announcement was their video store. There are some cool ideas behind this, such as letting content name their own prices and download/streaming options. The capitalist in me likes this. They've also got some quality partners such as CBS and the NBA. However, there are a lot of problems. Number one is that their scheme seems more about making content providers comfortable than it is about providing value to the consumer. That's where Apple gets it right. Of course Apple is not as interested in making money off video downloads, since they think it will help the continuing growth of iPod sales. Whatever their reasons, they keep it simple for consumers. You know it's going to cost you $1.99 and that you'll be able to watch it on your computer (and your work computer for that matter) and on your video iPod. That brings me to the next problem with Google's video store. Of course they had to put DRM on the videos (unless the content provider opts out) and they've come up with their own DRM technology. That means no watching videos you downloaded on any mobile player. I think there's a chance this turns out ok, as video downloads may take off while mobile video might not. But it's hard to say on this. Quick sidenote: When it comes to mobile video, as a parent I would love being able to download episodes of my older son's favorite shows (Oobi,
Jack's Big Music Show, and Sesame Street) and watch it on a video system in our minivan. Another sidenote: Here's an interesting article about where Google could be headed with video. It's an idea I've heard thrown around before, about Google doing targeted advertising for television. There are a lot of problems with this idea, though. It underestimates the current sophistication of ad placement via demographic profiling. It also fails to understand that a big part of the value of AdSense is that you only pay for succesful advertising. This doesn't carry-over to TV. Then the worst part is that it ignores the TiVo effect, i.e. that people watch less and less commercials since they can fast forward through them on recorded shows. So I wasn't impressed with Google's video offering. Their more minor announcement, Google Pack, is much more promising. Not because of the currently included software (which is mostly good stuff I already had on my computers,) but because of their Google Updater. This thing is a great device for Google to push new software, both from them and open source stuff like Open Office, to the masses. It's a nice Windows bypass mechanism. A nice move by Google, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Yahoo follow suit.