Monday, August 24, 2009

Home Networking...fallen and can't get up


After a great start, home networking over 1394 fizzled…repeatedly. After several years of analysis, some answers emerged.

For one thing, companies tend to follow standards imprecisely. A standard needs to be precise enough to assure that products will work together but you can not cover everything. If you even try, you end up with a standard that takes more years to write than the useful lifecycle of the technology. In the world of technology, the better mouse trap is constantly being introduced and if the mouse trap gains market acceptance, all old versions quickly become obsolete.

Therefore, there are subtle differences that can be introduced by well intentioned product designers when they use their best judgment about what makes sense when the standard is not specific. These judgment calls can make a Sony product fail intermittently when used with non-Sony products.

I mention Sony because they got a bad name in the industry for going their own way and deviating from the standard when the standard did not meet their need. Even worse, they were accused of intentionally introducing subtle differences in their products to encourage customers to buy all Sony products instead of buying products from multiple vendors.

Admittedly, Sony did deviate from the standard as they did when they introduced the 4-pin connector however; it is my opinion that they did not introduce subtle flaws to intentionally make their product work poorly with those of their competitors. Such a strategy would be too dangerous for the reputation conscious Sony I know. The customer could just as easily blame the Sony product for the failure as he could a non-Sony product. Additionally, I am aware of work Sony and Panasonic did with their competitors to make sure that Japanese products worked well together.

Sony was the leader in 1394 products by a large margin. As with any leader, when things go wrong, they were an easy target for cheap shots, paranoia, and conspiracy theories. I think this was simply a case of Sony making their best judgment call and simply not meshing on every point with the competition.

However, there was a more obvious problem which led to incompatibilities and the problem came straight from the standards written by the 1394TA.

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