PS Consultants - ideas & solutions

Home, home on the net….
April 1998

We usually struggle to find a theme for illustrating News Analysis, but this month, the grab from a recent Philadelphia Enquirer web page sums things up nicely.

The US has passed through the first phase of equipping it's citizens with home computers, and now home networks are the coming thing. It's actually not at all far fetched when you think about it , since where do all those office PCs go when they get upgraded? The majority go to the homes of staff, at least, that's what the more enlightened operations have been doing for years since they realise that this will encourage their staff to become more computer literate in their own time.

This is the first part of the response form the Enquirer's resident IT agony uncle:

"Talk to many a computer guru and what you'll hear is that between now and the millennium, networking will be the hot story in home computing.

Some networks will be confined to the home office, set up by individuals who have multiple computers and peripherals they want to link together, perhaps to make working at home more efficient.

But increasingly, there will be families who will see the advantages of networking. Among other things, networking will let mom, dad and the kids share not just a printer, but the resources on their individual computers, even if those machines are in different rooms.

If dad upgrades to a 56K modem, mom and the kids will be able to ditch their 14.4s and use his.

If mom has a removable drive in her machine, it will be accessible to all.

And after the kids finally go to bed, mom and dad can turn to the 24X CD-ROM player in the children's computer to revel in the latest 3D multimedia extravaganza.

And when everybody starts screaming for a machine with the latest, fastest CPU and 256 megs of RAM, the family can buy one top-of-the-line machine.

It will provide the computing power, while each individual machine will be relegated largely to the role of mere workstation."

Read the whole piece at:

With 233MHz PCs with 64M of RAM available for under 600, this is not an airy-fairy presumption, this is what is already happening. Ethernet network cards used to cost 100-200 five years ago. Today a 10Mbit ethernet card is as little as 10. (So don't forget to take the full tax write-down on all your PC and printer hardware – 25% per annum is simply fanciful.)

Last year the trend emerged that most home PCs were actually more powerful than office PCs in a "corporate" environment. (For corporate read "large, boring and cautious"). PCs at last matured as serious games-playing devices, and completely ready to unseat the consoles, with a multimedia frenzy largely fuelled by Intel's MMX marketing hype, and that frenzy continues with the Pentium 2 and Intel's new graphics initiatives.

Many of the earlier adopting home users with a "modest" 486/66 and 8MB of RAM have latterly got one of the new fire-breathing MMX monsters, and forgotten about the 486. But many also are taking the opportunity to start their own small home network, although networking is possible with Windows 3.11, it's a struggle for many users to set up; and although Windows 95 runs on a 486/66 with 8MB (indeed, that was the "recommended sec" for some time after the launch of the product, experience suggests otherwise.

The one really notable breakthrough for many of us with Windows 95 was the improved networking, and improved ease of installation. If you have two windows 95 PCs it's now almost impossible to resist the temptation to try and network them together so that the resources can be shared.

Toasters online

Early internet objects of fun included the famous university coke machine whose status could be interrogated via a web browser - and then a whole flood of useless "because we can" projects appeared. However, life as ever imitates art, and the prospect of connecting every domestic appliance to the home network is not just likely is positive. Get used to the idea that the fridge will send you an email message at work when it wants defrosting, or the electric toothbrush pages you when it needs recharging.

There'll be no excuse for burnt toast when the toaster "pops up" (sic) a message on the TV to warn you that it's ready. All the technology to do all this has been around for years in the form of various mains-borne carrier intercom technologies – what's been lacking is a coherent strategy and standards scheme.

Well, once again the standards scheme that has stood the internet in good stead for the past 30 years can be deployed in these circumstances. The once problematical 4 billion limit on the 32 bit IP address scheme has been steadily reduced in importance as new technologies have emerged to spoof entire networks using "private anything goes" IP addresses through a single registered IP address gateway.

Perhaps one of the most obvious uses will be the home network security systems, none of that nonsense about dialling up central alarm monitoring service who then relay the news of your false alarm to the local nick. The local nick will be able to browse straight along to the security panel in your house, and look through the online security cameras. Meantime you GSM phone will be buzzing with an SMS message to advise you that something is going on back at the ranch.

As I said, none of this need to be invented, it just needs to be co-ordinated and organised, something that the internet has shown a penchant for in the recent past.