DaveNet: Tuesday, September 16, 1997; by Dave Winer.
Marc Canter on WebTV PlusWebTV continues its evolution on their MIPS chip based platform with the new WebTV Plus machine.
- Will the box play back IE4.0 authored content? This is a key issue if the industry is to leverage off of the investments it's making in web content and amortize those investments moving forward into a higher bandwidth driven technology era.
- Will there be a Shockwave player for the WebTV ARM machine?
- Is 8MB of RAM enough for hot, compelling web based applications?
How are we gonna to provide better user interfaces to customers than the obnoxious scrolling prevue channel seen on most cable systems or the somewhat improved iconic interface of the DSS system?
Lots of local storage
It's not like the WebTV Plus platform won't have local storage. Contrary to the Sun/Oracle philosophy of remotely stored content, data and application software, WebTV Plus sports a 1.1G internal hard drive - which should give users plenty of room for stored video and audio, Director animations and interfaces and all sorts of sexy multimedia personalized user interfaces and customized content (for multimedia profiling and merchandising for instance.)
So the evolution of the set top box/Info hiway client machine continues - and the WebTV Plus box looks like a great step forward.
- When do we get pure DVD integration? - so that there's no difference between what's stored on the disc, the web and the internal hard drive.
- What about high quality MIDI devices?
- What is this new fangled "video modem" device? Is it going to give average users more bandwidth - or basically more bang for their buck. That undoubtedly that will be accomplished with yet another streaming video format and proprietary whatyamacallit's - all fully patent protected - which hopefully your mothership won't forget to support in NetShow.
- Where are the tools for this new video format?
- Do any tools exist to help us author on our PCs for this platform?
- Will this box support Dynamic HTML? Real Audio, Shockwave, or Beatnik?
- Will Windows 98 content and application software run on this box - or do we need Java? (shudder!)
- Or maybe it'll directly execute ActiveX components? or talk DCOM?
Two versions of WebTV
The real battle WebTV faces is trying to sell two different versions of the same box - at the same time. I assumed that they'd just write off those original 100,000 customers (or whatever it is) and just give them new boxes for free. That would make these early stage baby steps easier to handle, while they prepare themselves for the real battles a couple of years from now.
They can't afford to have too many of the earlier boxes out there - but having a wide range of products to sell is probably a distribution channel driven issue, even though it will confuse the hell out of customers.
In general WebTV seems to be increasing the end user's functionality and capabilities - while gradually sneaking in incremental technology improvements, like the 56K modem and faster processors (now up to 167Mhz). And now it looks like you've got the 'backing' to actually make all this really happen.
So again I plead: Support the same stuff that developers are being asked to write to - for IE4.0 - and leverage off of NetShow and NT/W98 client software - to build an installed base of compelling multimedia 'content' - so that Jane and Joe six pack can sit back and chill and browse more than just Moesha and sports scores.
I also love the concept of the superfluous, 3D page turn - for transitioning between modes - it reminds me of the famous SGI button-fly - which flipped and flopped and spun out of orbit with simple buttons - just to show off the SGI Indigo's 3D capabilites. Too bad no one has taken that concept further.
So superfluous is good, as whacky, worthless user interface tricks can only make a machine more fun to use. I'll probably just sit there and toggle back and forth between modes - just to try and break it. So fun is good.
And that means the end users experience will be better. Maybe one day they'll actually just be customers.
Marc Canter, firstname.lastname@example.org, is a founder of MacroMedia and a multimedia developer.