When the Chromecast device was announced this summer, I listened as a Microsoft enthusiast attempted to throw a wet blanket on it. “We have SmartGlass” was his response. Wow, I thought, have you ever used it? Even subtracting all of the hype that I’d heard about Chromecast, I really couldn’t think of classifying it as something that already existed in the Microsoft ecosystem…and SmartGlass, really?
Forest and Trees
Are we so enthusiastic that we can’t see beyond our windows? Full disclosure – although many rightly accuse me of having a Microsoft bias – I can usually diffuse this by admitting that my preference is really OS/2 and Lotus Notes. While that translates to having been around for a while, it’s also reminds me of a time when I considered Microsoft to be the evil empire. I recall vividly that Windows NT – and specifically Exchange – was classified as the ‘Notes Killer’. Fast-forward many years to when Ray Ozzie joined Microsoft – and hell had truly frozen over. Heck, even Paul Thurrott recently admitted that Ray Ozzie got it right!
I ordered a Chomecast device in August and received it recently. I installed it – overcoming some baffling setup problems on a Windows PC – by using an old Android device…go figure. It’s working great. While I had to install the Chrome browser (grrrr) I’m impressed by the ‘cast’ icon and how well it works. Casting through the iPad YouTube app is even more impressive. The audio and video quality is fantastic. What a great experience!
The experience is far from SmartGlass in its current version. I’ve been a Surface RT user since day one and have an Xbox 360 in the house. I still can’t figure out what SmartGlass does and can only keep the faith that it will become a platform for future development.
Having a collection of music that resides on a Windows Server 2012 Essentials box, I make frequent use of the ‘Play To’ feature in Windows RT. Although I’ve had to utilize a work-around to enable my devices to work with ‘Play To’ in Windows RT, it’s something I consider a positive differentiator when comparing ecosystems. Microsoft backs the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) and it works as planned. Did DLNA proliferate as it should have – definitely not. Most digital home audio systems today reside within various closed ecosystems – Apple TV, Pandora, Spotify, etc. And while I understand the appeal of streaming – hey, I really like the new Xbox Music service – I still have a lot of media that I want to manipulate within my own private cloud household.
What’s A Media Center
I have a dream for my Windows 8 devices. Having spent some time with the official 8.1 release – and the preview before it – it’s unfortunate that my DLNA devices throughout the house are still in the ‘not certified’ category. What this means is that I’ll have to employ the registry change yet again to ensure that my DLNA-compliant devices are compliant with what I’d consider to be the pre-eminent DLNA ecosystem out there – Windows. Sigh.
So let’s get this right – I have Windows 8 Pro Media Center edition that has to be significantly altered to work with other DLNA-compliant devices. I also have a SmartGlass app that I’m still quizzical about. Think about this from the typical home consumer users’ perspective. Could you talk your mom through a registry edit to ensure that her tablet can use the ‘play to’ feature? I hope that Microsoft sees the potential in using the Surface as a media controller for the home environment. I think that the Surface Remix Project shows promise in positioning Surface as having more potential than what we currently see.
Get To The Point
I believe that we have the origins of a great Chromecast-like device. Yes, we paid more for them (Xbox, Surface and a Windows Phone) but they have potential. But the Chromecast is $35…yes $35! So let’s get serious. The ecosystem needs to work easily out of the box. Let’s start sending media content to our TVs via Internet Explorer on our Surface or WP8. Let’s determine exactly how to integrate the Xbox One with our other Windows 8 devices. How about integrating DLNA features with WP8 – allowing manipulation of Xbox content from a stream, SkyDrive or our server’s shares. And – most importantly – let it function so that our mothers can do it.