This is the third of a four-part series about Windows Millennium Edition, highlighting each of the themes around which the consumer operating system was developed: PC health, digital media, home networking and the online experience. Already released to manufacturing, Windows Me will be available in retail channels on Sept. 14.
REDMOND, Wash., August 24, 2000 — At Larry Norris’ house in Stanwood, Wash., the computers are networked to enable the whole family — Norris, his wife, his mother and his three children — to share Internet access, printers, software and games.
“We can all use the Internet and email without having to tie up all the different resources,”
“Home networking is ideal for people who have more than one computer in the house.”
Across the country, in Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich., Jim Bradley also decided to network his home computers in order to share resources with the entire family.
“Over the past four or five years, particularly with the advent of the Internet, technology is a growing resource for my whole family,”
says Bradley, whose home-computing landscape features four networked computers connected to the Internet via a shared high-speed cable modem, dozens of software programs, two video cameras and a scanner/fax.
“I can’t imagine being without our home technology at this point.”
Users like Bradley and Norris, according to Microsoft, are just the type of home user for whom Windows Millennium Edition, or Windows Me, was developed. Released for beta testing last year, the Windows Me operating system will be available in retail channels Sept. 14. Developed around four themes — the online experience, PC health, digital media and home networking — Windows Me was built to be the optimal platform for users who want access to a full range of computing activities at home.
Setting the Stage for Home Networking
Home networking is a concept whose time has come, according to Greg Sullivan, lead product manager for Windows Me at Microsoft.
A few years ago this was in the realm of the high-end hobbyists, the Popular Electronics set,”
he says. Sullivan points to a few trends he considers significant in setting the stage for home networking to become a broadly adopted function of the home-computing experience.
“First and foremost is the increase in multiple-PC households,”
“Research shows that 28 percent of the homes in the U.S. have more than one PC; of those, nearly one quarter have a home network. Also, people are buying second and third PCs faster than people who don’t have a computer are buying their first.”
Other trends that contribute to the rising popularity of home networking include the increase in broadband access to the Internet and the proliferation of intelligent devices. Sullivan uses the coffee maker as an example.
“The coffee maker’s been around for a long time,”
“First it was just a coffee maker, then a coffee maker with a clock. Now coffee pots are coming out with an embedded computer. What if the coffee maker and your alarm clock communicated with each other and knew to start the coffee according to the time you’d set on your alarm clock?”
The popularity of the Internet, the increase in multiple-PC homes and the proliferation of intelligent devices all contribute to the rising popularity of home networking, Sullivan says.
“These trends really pave the way for home networking, and make setting up these connections more valuable and more viable,”
But the foundation beneath these trends, Sullivan says, is the value of the PC.
“The value proposition of the PC has become very clear — people who have PCs value that device more than any other electronic appliance,”
“So it makes lots of sense that in a home there’s contention for a valued resource. It can be a problem if you’ve only got one PC that can connect to the Internet. Someone wants to do homework, someone else wants to play a game, and I want to log on and check my email.”
Networking Features Designed for Simplicity and Ease
Another factor that will contribute to the popularity of home networking is ease of use, according to Sullivan.
“The home networking features — along with the rest of Windows Me — is going to bring to the mainstream a lot of the technology that today is in the realm of the technology enthusiast,”
“Before Windows Me, you had to know a lot about home networking hardware and software, your connection to the Internet and the configuration of the computers you were trying to connect.”
A case in point for simplicity, Sullivan says, is the work Microsoft did in developing the user interface on the Home Networking Wizard, where a set of dialog boxes guide the user through the networking process one step at a time.
“Home networking used to be geared toward an audience that already understood what an IP address was,”
“That prevented a lot of people from taking advantage of it. But thanks to the work we’ve done, I’m confident that even my mom could set up a network.”
Home Networking Enhances Computing Experience
Both Bradley and Norris, who have tested beta versions of Windows Me, agree that the operating system’s home-networking feature has enhanced their home-computing experience in a simple, easy-to-manage way.
“The home-networking features are one of the biggest strengths of the new platform,”
Norris says. Logging onto his network are his three children, his wife, his mother and a slew of nieces and nephews, all of whom live within three miles and visit regularly.
“And it was very easy to put it together. Once you plug everything into your network hub, you set up your Home Networking Wizard and it walks you right through the process. It’s very intuitive.”
And for Bradley, who works out of his home office, the network he set up has allowed his family to get more mileage out of their computers. Bradley’s wife is a school psychologist and frequently writes up reports on her computer late at night. His 19-year-old nephew attends college and relies on the computer for school-related research and writing. And when they aren’t doing schoolwork, his two daughters spend time on the Internet playing games and downloading music.
The home-networking capabilities in Windows Me allow all the users in the Bradley household to share access to the Internet and other computing resources.
“The home networking in Windows Me is very stable and we’re sharing Internet access through a cable modem,”
“It’s very useful. You can share printers and even hard drives. For instance, my computer has a very large hard drive on it, and the children store their information there rather than on their computer’s small hard drive.”
The Future of Home Computing
Sullivan predicts that home networking will lead to a new realm of home computing in the not-too-distant future.
“In conjunction with Windows Me, a whole host of other companies are working to define new scenarios,”
“Soon you’ll see a whole new class of devices and appliances that have the capability to discover, communicate with and control other devices in the home.”
At the heart of these new scenarios is a technology that’s based on the same infrastructure that supports the Internet — Universal Plug and Play (UPnP), which uses standard Internet protocols to seamlessly connect PCs, intelligent appliances, wireless devices and others over a network. In fact, Windows Me is the first product to support UPnP version.1.0, taking a significant step toward making the connected home a reality.
In addition to the coffee pot scenario, various companies are introducing other products that will communicate with Windows Me and users’ home networks: a VCR that streams media throughout the home, or a thermostat that communicates with the family calendar and knows to turn the heat down when the family is on vacation.
3Com, which provides products and network system solutions to PC makers and consumers, has begun shipping several networking kits, called HomeConnect, that provide all the necessary hardware and software needed to set up a home network for high-speed Internet access and peripheral and personal file sharing. Their Home Network Phoneline Kit, for example, walks users through the process of actually connecting their multiple PCs together via existing phone lines in the home. By using the HomeConnect products, consumers will then be able to leverage the latest networking features included in Windows Me.
“To simplify network setup and use, 3Com’s home network kits and adapters include easy-to-use Microsoft HomeClick Network Software, featuring a step-by-step wizard,”
says Brent Lang, senior director of solutions and services at 3Com.
“With HomeClick Network Software, complex network configuration is transparent to the user since they are completed behind the scenes. Users need only complete a simple series of steps to install their networks. If necessary, HomeClick Network Software provides intuitive troubleshooting capabilities, helping consumers pinpoint and correct any errors.”
According to Sullivan, the new scenarios that are part of home networking were all developed with the users’ convenience in mind.
“These scenarios are about putting the user back in control and saving time,”
“For example, a refrigerator will schedule its own maintenance and give the user the option of letting the repairman into his or her home remotely. While the repairman enters the home, does the repair and cleans up his mess, the homeowner watches from his or her desk at work via a Web cam.”
Sullivan believes the home-networking feature of Windows Me will open up a wealth of new opportunities for consumers.
“The whole idea is to provide flexibility,”
“Home networking has made it possible to have appliances and devices that work together to give the user more control and save time. People’s lives are only going to get busier and busier, so if Microsoft can provide features in Windows Me that lend simplicity instead of complexity to our daily tasks and chores then we have achieved our goal.”