While I was at CES a week or so ago, I bumped into an old friend of mine named Joe Belfiore. Joe was a huge Macintosh fan when we are Stanford together almost 20 years ago. We were both firm believers that the Apple UI was greatly superior to the Microsoft experience. Then Joe went to work for Microsoft. About 10 years into Joe's stay with Microsoft, I caught up with him and he was a convert. He was now touting the virtues of the Windows experience -- the virtues of speed, interoperability, that whole Microsoft spiel. Of course, it is not surprising that Joe was a convert. He had been a Windows product manager for years and was responsible for making sure it was a better experience. It was still shocking to hear my Mac-loving buddy go on at length about the weaknesses of the Apple platform. But the truth is, he was right. Starting with Windows ninety-something, Microsoft leapfrogged Apple. (Simmer down you Apple people -- I know that OSX is a great operating system and all that, but let's not get into that debate here). More importantly, because the Windows environment was an open environment, from a business standpoint, Microsoft's platform had left Apple in the dust.
Fast forward to today. Joe is now the general manager for Microsoft's eHome User Experience Team. His group covers a bunch of Microsoft home technologies but most importantly Windows XP Media Center Edition. So while at CES, Joe gave me a tour of Media Center, along with a number of 3rd party applications and devices designed to interoperate with a Media Center PC. For what it is worth, I remain an Apple guy. I love their beautiful hardware and am a big fan of the simplicity of the iLife applications (and OSX is a fabulous operating system). My home network has nary one Windows machine. That said, my tour of Media Center was a stark contrast to iLife and perhaps a wake-up call -- if not to Apple, at least to me.
When Steve Jobs delivered his keynote at Macworld a couple weeks ago, lots of folks like myself were rooting for him to announce hardware and software that would integrate iLife into the stereo and television. No such luck. And because iLife remains a closed platform, there are no third party developers building sanctioned software or devices to achieve that integration. On the other hand, Microsoft's Media Center Edition is a classic open platform. They have developed a UI that works well for the television, as well as standards for mapping to their universal remote, but they are relying upon third parties to develop interesting applications and device to support the platform. And it is working. Folks like Movielink, Musicmatch, Napster (the new, legal Napster), Ofoto and others have written applications for the platform. More importantly, however, a number of CE companies have begun developing devices to bring music to the stereo, photos to the television, etc. The devices are still expensive and debates continue to rage over things like 802.11a vs. 802.11g, but if history has shown us anything, a number of great solutions will soon emerge as the technology matures.
As much as I like Apple's iLife applications, I left CES with the clear impression that Microsoft's home experience will once again leapfrog Apple. I guess it's time for me to start shopping for a new home PC.