On July 11, Microsoft publicly released its plans to enter the wireless networking market later this year by introducing a line of hardware products that use Wi-Fi, the 802.11b wireless standard. Randy Ringer, general manager for the Microsoft Hardware Division, explained, "These products will enable consumers to set up a wireless network quickly and easily so they can share their broadband Internet connections, files, and printers with the other computers in their home or small office."
This move into wireless networking should come as no surprise—public announcements and rumors have been coming from Redmond for a few years now about home automation and networking products for consumers. Microsoft's vision of multiple servers and desktops interconnected in the home and connected to the Internet isn't too far a stretch into the future. Some form of "home IIS" will run in the house as the family Web server, and it's reasonable to assume that this "home IIS" will be incredibly easy to maintain and keep secure. New generations of Microsoft tools to build Web applications (such as future versions of ASP.NET Web Matrix, Microsoft's new and free tool to build ASP.NET applications—see my article in the July 2, 2002, edition of Windows Web Solutions UPDATE) will likely mature to the point where 9-year-olds will be able to build dynamic and robust Web applications for the family Web site. Certainly, no tool replaces a seasoned software architect, but tools that let most people build robust Web applications are sorely needed. And Microsoft is leading the industry in creating powerful and easy tools that let you build software applications.
You could speculate that with all this computing power, many people will become more productive when working at home; thus, the practice of telecommuting from home offices will explode in popularity. Companies save money when employees work at home; however, telecommuting presents problems in communication, both personal and electronic. If Microsoft can help users leverage broadband Internet connections and Wi-Fi, some of those communication problems could disappear. Microsoft and other vendors might develop a suite of inexpensive videoconferencing software as broadband connections become increasingly reliable, readily available, and inexpensive. Currently, Microsoft NetMeeting works well for videoconferencing, but the product isn't very effective without a connection of at least 100Mbps.
An increase in videoconferencing means that telecommuters will need to adapt to this new method of communication. Nothing replaces communication in person, although sometimes we tend to think email is an adequate substitute—particularly when email threads to someone in the next room go beyond 10 rounds. But as telecommuters become accustomed to videoconferencing, we'll see better and more effective communication take place between people throughout the world. Physical proximity to your company, business partners, and customers won't be the dramatic limiting factor that it is today.
Clearly, Microsoft's vision is to run some form of Windows in the home in a secure, distributed, and connected environment that's part of the Internet. Reaching that goal will be no small feat. For me, however, this vision is a double-edged sword. I'm sure Microsoft will provide a series of cool products that we'll enjoy running in our homes. But, as I'm guessing you do, I already serve as Tier 1 networking and desktop support for many of my neighbors' home computers. After Microsoft provides suites of tools that let everyone's homes become easily connected, I'll need a 40-hour day to be able to support my neighbors' technological habits.