Commence the “light bulb” jokes

From TWICE (registration required) comes news that 21 companies and organizations — including CEA (but not CEDIA?) — have joined to form the Home Lighting Control Alliance to promote lighting controls for new construction, renovations and retrofits. Of all the niche markets served by the professional installer channel today, I’ve long thought that lighting controls had the most potential to break out. Particularly with more reliable wireless technologies such as Z-Wave (already supported by Logitech in its highest-end Harmony remotes) and Zigbee gaining momentum, could be a natural growth opportunity for the Geek Squads and Firedogs after they have grabbed the low-hanging fruit of home theater installations.

However, there are a few key missing participants in this effort, such as Zensys and Lutron, which holds a commanding patent portfolio in home lighting. Furthermore, the business models of CEDIA installers leave little incentive for standardization. This space needs a major disruptive catalyst to set it in motion. Insteon products have hit the right price point; the obstacle is democratizing installation.

Mac OpenOffice debut may be preview

While the Macworld UK article seemed to indicate that OpenOffice 2.0 would “ship” for the Mac this month, a look at the Mac timeline reveals that, while the Aqua version will be “presented” next month, an alpha is now scheduled for next January or February. I wouldn’t expect to see it lauded at the January Macworld event, though. Not only does Apple have its own quasi-suite in iWork, but from all accounts it hasn’t reached out very much to the OpenOffice effort. Indeed, much of the difficulty in getting OpenOffice to the Mac is explained in the FAQ of the NeoOffice project that seeks to circumvent the delays: is paid for by Sun Microsystems so its paid staff are most concerned with completing whatever goals Sun Microsystems sets. In comparison, NeoOffice averages less than a million downloads per year and NeoOffice only runs on a platform that Sun Microsystems has rarely released software for. Because of these differences, any Mac OS X work must be coordinated with the paid staff to ensure that the Mac OS X work does not conflict with any work on the Windows, Linux, or Solaris platforms.

Sure doesn’t sound like the kind of egalitarianism that the FOSS world generally embraces.

S’napple not happening

It’s good to see that John Dvorak hasn’t lost his appetite for baiting Mac users.

The Mac’s office is finally open

It’s been a big week of new arrivals at Apple. First, Google CEO Eric Schmidt joins its Board of Directors, but I’m more skeptical than many about how directly Board participation results in direct collaboration between companies. This does not of course mean that Apple and Google have an alliance, even though Bill Campbell’s participation on Apple’s Board seemed to have helped the plight of Intuit products for the Mac.

In any case, I’m persoinally more excited about the imminent and long-awaited arrival of an “official” OpenOffice for the Mac next month. It may not be the prettiest Mac application out there, but OpenOffice is an incredibly capable suite, and there is nothing like the convenience of being able to download it and be almost instantly productive. Nowadays, Mac users looking for a free alternative to Pages or Microsoft Office need to look to products like AbiWord, which work poorly under Mac OS X. 

Comin’ around again

It looks like digital music has almost come full circle from the original Napster to (limited free listens) and now to SpiralFrog, which will trade rights-managed music for your ad time. This notion of “paying” people to watch commercials online goes back at least as far as CyberGold, but SpiralFrog has potential because of the emotional value of music can be higher than its monetary value. The devil will be in the details for this one; much will depend on SpiralFrog’s catalog, but Universal Music Group has apparently signed on.

Managed copy meandering

In meeting with the HD-DVD promotion group yesterday, I discussed some mandatory features that the specification has that could be advantages, but perhaps not, if we see prolonged format war. One good outcome of the meeting was that there was no awareness of either the HD-DVD or Blu-Ray camps seeking to restrict licensing of dual-format drives, which seems like an inevitable outcome of the format war.

One reason that Microsoft and Intel claimed that they supported HD-DVD over Blu-Ray was the former’s support of “Managed Copy,” a feature that would enable consumers to back up movies to their hard disks to perhaps stream across home networks or “sideload” to portable media players. However, it turns out that the group that would be responsible for such a feature, AAAC, will not decide on the fate of Managed Copy until mid-October. All that the HD-DVD group has done has been to pledge support for the feature if it’s ratified, and then who knows whether studios will buy in. The Blu-Ray camp could include the feature as well, although BD+ would need to support it as well

A mad Dash

Just a few days after the announcement of Chumby comes another small device, this one focused on driving. Dash‘s Web site humbly notes that its product will do for driving what TV did for entertainment and cell phones did for communication. Not only did these seminal devices result in different kinds of changes, but the CrunchGear report would indicate that at least one of Dash’s main features is real-time traffic using a mesh network that goes beyond what TomTom has done with its Friend Finder feature.

Accurate traffic reporting can turn portable navigation devices from products used only opportunistically to ones used almost every day, but I still wouldn’t put it on the magnitude scale of the cell phone or certainly the television. If it can get the viral network effect rolling (and it will be hard to lowball what sounds like a feature-rich device), Dash’s approach should have advantages over several approaches used to deliver traffic today. However, I’m still waiting to see far more natural ways of giving directions based on contextual cues, directions the way a human would give them. — “Turn left at the Mobil station on the right three blocks away.”

“Get a Mac” ads evolving

Three new Apple ads recently broke. “Angel/Devil” is probably the least entertaining and does the least to highlight the Mac’s advantages. At this point, the commercials are starting to portray a kind of “Abbott and Costello” vibe with the PC character becoming less corporate and geeky and now just plain comically silly. This may be in response to more people identifying with and liking John Hodgman’s character. This is especially true in “Trust Mac,” in which Hodgman’s incognito antics are so silly that Justin Long cannot keep a straight face through the commercial.

…but I get up again.

Those were the words that followed “I get knocked down,” part of the chorus to the song Tubthumping by one-hit wonders Chumbawumba, which may have inspired the name for Chumby. Via Engadget, DYI World reports that Chumby is an Internet appliance that seeks to finally bring the clock radio into the age of the Internet and digital music for “less than 150.” Chumby has a lot of potential as a platform, but looks like overkill. All we need is the time, some MP3s, and maybe the weather. In any case, you can’t buy it yet.

Children’s Machine arrives on the scene

One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) recently announced that its device designed for use by children in developing countries is now claled the Children’s Machine 1 or CM1 (an homage to project adviser Seymour Papert) and will begin field trials in September. According to Ars Technica, the device now has 512 MB of integrated flash memory — more than 11 times the storage I needed to store all of my Mac applications and documents throughout college — and can be further expanded through USB slots and an SD card slot. The open-source word processor Abi Word has been modified to use the product’s “Sugar” user interface based on Fedora Core Linux.

Other impressive specs include a camera for taking stills and videoconferencing, a microphone and speaker — perhaps for VoIP — and an 8″ screen with an incredibly high resolution of 1200 x 900 pixels.

I wrote last year that such a device would likely to be of interest to American school districts although doing so might raise the ire of OLPC partner AMD. With a different industrial design, it would also be a godsend on cramped airline trays for business travellers (and more practical than the far more expensive UMPC. It will be interesting to see whether the folks at AlphaSmartc an integrate some of the best technology from the CM1. Its $249 Neo costs almost 80 percent more than the CM1 wth a fraction of the capabilities.