Thursday, December 15, 2005

My oldest best idea...

Well, not my oldest by any stretch - but most before this one smelled something rotten; perhaps this one does too ;)

While no longer revolutionary, it was a bit ahead of its time when I had it. I had neither the resources or cajones to get it done but I am convinced it would have worked. Afterall, Moxi did and my idea went much further. It was 2000 - I was 31, the bubble had decidedly burst (making any investment seeking difficult) and, again, I didn't have the cajones to leave my job and make a go of it, having no programming talent of my own (at least at this level). Again, think Moxi - and a whole lot more....

It was going to be your home's media center - Internet proxy/modem/router/switch/firewall/AP, DVR, a home 'portal' with applets, NAS for the home, 'smarthome' control, home security system, stereo system, answering machine, etc. - everything a geeky family would need, and in the future - ALL families. Was my plan anyway. I was not only looking to market it to cable/satellite companies, but also housing contractors, and even provide consumer availability. It was not just a set top box (although that was to be an option) - it was infrastructure, destined for mounting next to your circuit box, wired throughout the house, and controlled via RF remotes, TVs, and network access. No more box-per-TV models, one box for the whole house, with all sorts of home control and media access - a selling point for contractors and housing developers I thought (didn't turn out so easy, but...).

It all started when I was playing with some X10 protocol stuff and home controls. I saw all the uses (lighting, HVAC controls, home security system) and I just started thinking about what else a home system/server could, and should, do. Network connectivity for DSL, cable and whatever else came along. Secure the internal network with a firewall, provide Ethernet ports for home wiring, wireless AP, integrated UPS, and on and on. I envisioned serveral web terminals in the home and even mobile devices (wirelss tablets, etc. - heck, the new Nokia 770 fits right into my plan).

Huge mirrored drives for storage that could withstand the failure of a device, a home filer for storage, a print server to share that printer, a web portal with applets for common household tasks and functions (a family calender, budgeting and account tracking tools, recipe database, photo albums, provisioning for your security system, answering machine, etc.), and finally - a DVR. Admittedly I didn't get the DVR bug until I read about Steve Perlman looking at starting another set-top box company (turned out to be Moxi), but even so, I was integrating many more household functions into this. Looking at Linux and open source projects - the web portal and applets were there, the networking and firewall functions were very ready, there was some work to be done with X10 and security systems on Linux, but I thought I could handle that. The answering machine capability was there but not polished; I would need some help with that. But it was the DVR that had me stumped - I had no idea how to do TV. This was where I needed loads of help. Or counseling, as it turned out ;)

What I failed to see at the time was cable and satellite operators not being willing to use just any box - they wanted control. The idea of a contractor building this into the home, or a family purchasing one from Best Buy would likely not fly with them. A tough sell, and one I didn't have the confidence to pursue. I had no product, no contacts, and was too comfortable in my current job. It died in the idea stage - didn't even finish the business plan.

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Refinements to the idea came about in 2001. With things moving to Internet portals it seemed somewhat unnecessary to have all the web apps on the home server. So, I thought why not partner with Yahoo? Have my home server be a 'cache' (sync'd would be more accurate) of Yahoo data for the users in the home and extend applications that they did not provide. Same data - available at home, on the road(Yahoo), and even when you lose your Internet connection - a natural backup for basic data. Nowadays it would be good to have a more generic data sync process to integrate with Google, AOL, MSN, etc. as well. Think Intellisyc, AvantGo, and more - it was there ready to be used.

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But it is sooo much easier to do today that I just cannot figure out whats stopping Moxi, Tivo, etc. from doing it. Even a new company or one not in that market right now (Cisco/Linksys are you listening? Nokia perhaps?)

Today we have CableCards, MythTV, Asterisk, more advanced web apps, better home controls and home security features. You can get most of this yourself now. Even today we have several devices doing these various things for us - DSL/Cable modem, router/switch/AP, security panel, thermostat, lighting panel, answering machine, multiple PCs (where is that file?); ALL controlled seperately and differently - nothing bringing them together. Heck even multiple DVRs now too - which one has what show? With this system you would record something once, centrally, and just choose which TV to watch it on. You could do or change most anything without getting off the couch - beer runs and restroom breaks were still left as an exercise for the user :)

I still think it works, but have been wrong before...

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