Special Report Archive

Special Report – A Celebration of the 50th Internationaler Funkaustellung

This year is a very special year as far as one of the two annual “pillar” trade shows for consumer electronics is concerned. It is going to mark the 50th time the Internationaler Funkaustellung, the premier trade show for consumer-electronics in Europe, has been hosted. Miss IFA 2010 with 50th IFA logo

What is the Internationaler Funkaustellung?

The Internationaler Funkaustellung, also known as the IFA, is a German trade show which was primarily centred on consumer entertainment electronics but is now also focusing on major and small appliances intended for personal or domestic use. It was initially a way for Germany to show its radio technology prowess when the medium was just to become a commercial reality.

This used to be an event held between August and September of every second year but is now held annually between the same months. It had existed since 1924 but was suspended through World War II as Germany focused its efforts on the war. It was initially hosted in Berlin but was hosted in different larger cities around Germany including West Berlin even when the nation and that city was divided.

Initially, this was used by German consumer-electronics manufacturers to promote their wares and Loewe, one of the German names associated with luxurious TV sets, has been with this show ever since it started.  As the consumer-electronics scene became more international, this trade fair became more international and also became larger.

An important step in the presentation of new technology

I have seen this show in the same league as the Consumer Electronics Show in the USA as being one to watch when it came to consumer electronics. Typically, this show would be where consumer-entertainment technologies that were relevant to Europe, Australia or New Zealand were premiered or commercialised.

Micro Hi-Fi component systems at IFA 1981

Micro Hi-Fi component systems

Radio – TV – Tape Recording – Hi-Fi – Stereo Sound – FM stereo – Microgroove (LP / 45) records – Cassettes – Colour TV – Dolby NR – Teletext – Enhanced Radio Technologies (ARI traffic information priority, RDS with textual display of station metadata) Home Video – Compact Discs –Stereo TV, Hi-Fi Video and Home Theatre –  MiniDisc –  DVD – Digital Radio – Digital TV – Satellite Navigation – HDTV – 3DTV

You name it, it was either premiered or had its European commercial launch here

Teletext display at IFA 1979

Teletext - a predecessor to interactive TV

Of course, this show gave other countries like the USA a look-see in to the consumer-electronics and broadcasting technologies that were in “full swing” in Germany but weren’t being launched or given a commercial chance in the home country. One example was Teletext which allowed TV stations to transmit textual information alongside their video signal, with the end-user being able to call up the information on to the screen of a suitably-equipped TV set using its remote control. Another example was the ARI traffic-information-priority technology where a suitably-equipped car radio could be set to play traffic announcements at a louder volume than the rest of the programme material or tune for only those stations that run the announcements regularly.

Now including domestic appliances and personal care

Since 2008, the organisers had decided to make the IFA show encompass domestic appliances as well as consumer electronics. It was initially a small area of the show but this class of goods increased in its share of the show’s floor space. This even led towards the effective amalgamation of a European home-appliance trade fair with this one in 2009 with this fair become the European universe of all consumer electronic and electrical devices. This trend hasn’t been reflected in the Consumer Electronics Show in the USA, mainly because of a trade-specific fair that covers this class of goods sold in that market or other market-specific reasons.

This was symbolic of a new trend with such appliances being not just a functional element in one’s life but a stronger part of one’s lifestyle. It also included the desire for consumers to buy the major appliances that are more resource efficient, especially as governments are using tax breaks, “scrappage” / “cash-for-clunkers” schemes and similar programs like to assist in this goal.

As well, the last financial crisis has encouraged an increase in “at-home” time and the industry is taking advantage of the fact by integrating small appliances like espresso machines as a way of mimicking the environment of being “out-and-about”.

Relevance to the home and small-business IT world

Over the last ten years, the home network has become an integral part of the consumer lifestyle, especially as “always-on” broadband Internet has become commonplace and the number of multiple-computer households increases. The IFA show has then become a showground for manufacturers to exhibit devices like broadband routers and network-infrastructure equipment as well as desktop and laptop home computers.

Infact, the Wi-Fi-equipped laptop computer and the Wi-Fi wireless home network has become more important over these years thanks in part to the Intel Centrino campaign which emphasised the laptop computer being part of one’s lifestyle. Similarly, mobile phones have become Internet-enabled multi-function devices that can work either with the cellular telephony infrastructure or with a Wi-Fi network. This concept has been spurred on by the recent crop of Nokia phones and the Apple iPhone.

As well, the arrival of file-based media playback, spurred on my MP3 digital audio players, has integrated the computer and the home network as an integral part of the home entertainment system. This functionality was initially in the form of separate devices but has ended up becoming another function of regular audio and video playback hardware and has been enhanced by the use of standards-based technologies like DLNA. Therefore most consumer-electronics firms are using this show to launch or exhibit product models or ranges that feature this ability. Similarly most computer companies are exhibiting network-attached-storage devices that can hold multimedia files and share them around the house.

This concept has extended in to the realm of Internet-based broadcasting where radio or TV content can be obtained live or on-demand from a content-provider’s Website. This has made consumer electronics companies and others work out ways to bring this content forward to TV sets and hi-fi systems without an intimidating and unwieldy device or user interface.

An interesting comparison

  Exhibitors Floor Space (square metres) Visitors
1924 242 3,300 180,000
2010 1.423 134,400 230,000

 

Conclusion

IFA Logo

This is a way of celebrating how this show has become a “pillar” trade fair as far as consumer electronics and technology in the European market is concerned.

All press photos and logos are copyright of Messe Berlin GmBH.

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Special Report – Windows 95 now 15 years old and a major change to the PC computing platform

During mid-1995, the Intel-based “IBM-PC” desktop computing platform had been given a major improvement with the arrival of a new operating system from Microsoft. This operating system, initially known as “Chicago” and was to be known as “Windows 4” and “MS-DOS 7” but became known as Windows 95 had yielded many improvements to this platform that it was made increasingly legitimate as an “all-round” general-purpose computing platform that was ready for the Internet.

This operating system was launched with a huge campaign which revolved around the new “Start” button on the desktop and this was enforced with the use of the Rolling Stones smash-hit song “Start Me Up”. The visual element that was also used was the clouds in the sky symbolising a new operating environment for your computer.

How did Windows 95 improve the Intel-based “IBM PC platform”

Computer-Management Improvements

Integration of Windows graphical user interface with MS-DOS operating system

Previously, a computer that worked on the “IBM PC platform” required the use of Microsoft’s MS-DOS operating system or a similar operating system like Digital Research’s DR-DOS as its base operating system. These operating systems didn’t come with a graphical shell unless you paid extra for one and ran the shell as a distinct program.

This typically required users either to run a third-party menu program or graphical user-interface “shell” like Automenu, Microsoft Windows or one that was supplied with network software like Novell; or, if they had MS-DOS 4 or 5, start a DOSSHELL graphical user interface. IBM typically pushed their OS/2 graphical shell as one that was suitable for any of their PS/2 series computers.

Now, Windows 95 integrated the graphical user interface with the MS-DOS operating system and had this running as a default setup. It had led to avoiding the need to remember to run particular programs to use a graphical-user interface.

A lot less to run to add functionality to the computer.

Previously, if you wanted to run sound, advanced graphics or other multimedia, use peripherals like a mouse or a CD-ROM drive or use communications or computer networks, you had to make sure that you ran particular drivers or memory-resident programs. This typically required you to work with the CONFIG.SYS or AUTOEXEC.BAT files to make sure these programs start.

If you wanted to increase memory for particular programs, you had to know how to stop a particular memory-resident program to free up the memory space. In the case of communications, you had to use communications programs which were effectively “terminal emulators” to work with bulletin boards and these programs were the only ones that could control the modem. Similarly, if you ran a network, you would need to run networking software to allow the computer to benefit from the network. Some of these situations even required the location to have a resident “geek” called a system administrator to set up these computers. Even the Internet on a Windows machine behind a dialup modem needed the user to run programs like Trumpet Winsock to establish the connection.

This improvement alone allowed a small organisation to share files or printers between computers that are connected on a network with minimal configuration effort and has opened up the path towards the home network.

With Windows 95, most of these functions were simply handled by the operating system rather than by extra software that had to be started.  This had taken away all of the extra requirements that the user needed to think of to run a highly-capable computer and do what they wanted to do.

Ready for the Internet

1995 was the year that the Internet came to the mainstream. Cyber-cafes had sprung up around town and new businesses called “Internet Service Providers” came on the scene. It was considered the “in thing” to have an email address where you could receive Internet-based email and you also had to know how to surf the Web. The old order of bulletin boards and online services with their “controlled media” had fallen away for this new “uncontrolled media” order that the Internet offered.

Windows 95 was capable of working with the Internet “out of the box” whether through a network or a dial-up service. This was because the operating system had an integrated TCP/IP stack with support for PPP-based dial-up protocols. There was even a basic email client provided with the operating system.

User-interface improvements

The Start Menu

This was a new take on the previous DOSSHELL programs, Windows Program Manager and the third-party menu programs as being a place to find and start programs. Here, the user clicked on the Start button at the bottom left of the screen and found a tree of program names which would represent to software found on their system.

It had been considered easier for most users to start working on whatever they wanted to work on and has become a standard motif for all of the Microsoft operating environments since this operating system.

Windows Explorer and the object-driven view

The file-management functionality was handed over to Windows Explorer which provided for a new way of managing files and objects. It allowed for programmatic views like a “My Computer” view that provided for a simplified shell or an “Explorer” view with a directory tree in a pane as well as an object-driven file view.

This collection-viewing concept had extended to the Control Panel and other operating-system components that used collections as they were introduced in to the Windows platform.

Larger file names

Previously in MS-DOS, you were limited to an 8-character file name with a 3-character extension that was used for defining the file type. Now, since Windows 95, you could create a meaningful file name of up to 32 characters long which allowed you then to identify your files more easily. Thee was a special truncated 8-character version of the file name for use with older programs that didn’t support the new file-name convention.

It became more important as digital cameras became popular because people could name their photos in a way that reflects the content of the picture and also was important as file-based audio storage came on to the scene.

The Registry configuration-data store

Microsoft introduced the Registry configuration-data store as a way of avoiding the need to maintain multiple configuration files across the system. Here, this store allowed for a centralised point of reference for holding this data that the operating system and applications needed for configuration-reference information that had to be persistent across sessions.

Under-the-hood improvements

Integration with the 32-bit computing world

This operating system was built from the ground up to be a true 32-bit operating system that was tuned to work with the 32-bit processors that emerged since the Intel 80386DX processor. This would then allow software developers to compile their programs to run their best in a 32-bit computing environment.

This was in contrast to programs like Microsoft Word 6.0 which were compiled for Intel-architecture 32-bit processors but in a manner that was to be compatible with 16-bit processors of the same architecture. As well, most of the MS-DOS operating systems were also compiled for use with the 8-bit “PC/XT” environments and/or the 16-bit “PC/AT” environments. The operating-system limitation then didn’t allow these programs to work at their best even if run on a computer with a 32-bit processor.

This had allowed for a variety of optimised computing setups like true multitasking and multithreading that these newer processors could cater for.

It is like Windows 7 where the operating system has been tuned for a 64-bit computing world and optimised for the newer multicore processors that are part of the Intel-based processor architecture.

Readiness for newer computing designs

Windows 95 had also catered for newer computing design principles such as the “soft-off” principle that was part of portable laptop computers and was to be part of the up-and-coming ATX desktop-computer design standard.  This principle catered for “one-touch” power-off and modem-based / network-based power-on practices which allowed for improved system management for example.

The operating system also allowed for support of various forms of extensability through use of standards, class drivers and similar practices that avoid the need to overload Windows with drivers.

Conclusion

Windows 95 wasn’t just an “ugly duckling” of an operating system but a major turning point for the evolution of the Windows platform. Happy Birthday Windows 95!

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Special Report – 10 Years Of the UPnP Forum

Originally posted 9 September 2009, Reposted Tuesday 20 October 2009 in conjunction with the official press release

From The Horse’s Mouth

Official press release from the UPnP Forum – PDF

In the media and blogosphere

UPnP celebrates 10 years of existence | eHomeUpgrade

 

No need to configure the router every time you want to play a PC-based or console-based online game or use Skype and Windows Live Messenger (MSN Messenger).

You can navigate music, pictures or video held on a computer or network-attached storage device from a network media player device like an Internet radio with the same ease as navigating music on an MP3 player or using the computer’s media-management software.

How has this been brought about? It has been brought about with UPnP, which is a standard for controlling and monitoring devices over an IP-based network. The standard, which is held together by the UPnP Forum, is about a known device network architecture and known device classes that are determined for particular device types.

Microsoft had been one of the founding companies for this standard but the Open-Source software movement had welcomed it with open arms and developed many endpoint programs based on this standard. The only company that has not welcomed UPnP as a technology is Apple who still prefer to keep everything within their own fences.

Now the UPnP Forum are celebrating their 10th anniversary this year. The celebrations were part of their regular Steering Committee meeting at Microsoft’s head office in Redmond, USA.

Achievements – from personal Web research

The UPnP Device Architecture specification has now been taken to Version 2, which allows a device to service 2 networks and prepares UPnP for IPv6 networks. The AV specifications have been taken to version 3 for the MediaServer device so that a UPnP AV-based home media network can support broadcast recording whether immediately or on a scheduled basis, handling of premium content using digital rights management techniques, as well as support for “follow-me” functionality. It has then made the specifications more relevant to TV-based devices like digital TVs and set-top boxes / PVRs.

Most standards concerning the design of consumer network-Internet “edge” devices such as routers like CableHome 1.1, DSLHome TR064 / TR068 and Home Gateway Initiative include UPnP Internet Gateway Device as part of the mandatory set of specifications for these devices. As well, more Internet-based programs like BitTorrent clients, games and instant-messaging / VoIP programs are designed to take advantage of the UPnP Internet Gateway Device standard by being “self-configuring” at the edge. This is infact one of the primary reasons that whenever I buy or specify a router for someone’s home network, I make sure that it does properly support the UPnP Internet Gateway Device specification.

The two main games consoles that just about every teenage boy or young man has or wants to have – the Microsoft XBox360 and the Sony PlayStation 3 – both have inherent support for UPnP-based home networking. This is with automated port-forwarding for online games and now support for media playback from UPnP AV / DLNA media servers.

This leads me to the fact that the Digital Living Network Alliance have pushed forward the UPnP AV specifications and encouraged the development of server, playback and control devices based on these specifications. This development has been supported by the devices having the DLNA branding which will help consumers purchase the right products.

These situations have also been augmented with Windows XP and Vista having integrated UPnP functionality “out of the box”. Even Windows Media Player had the support for UPnP AV sharing “out of the box” since version 10. Windows 7 has taken this concept by working as a UPnP AV Media Control Point “out of the box” with functions like “Play To”.

Some standards have been achieved for the building control and security sector, mainly in the form of lighting and HVAC control, control of powered blinds and setup of network CCTV cameras. Further development will be likely to happen with the impetus of the smart-grid concept and the desire for energy efficiency and environment consciousness. This will be assisted if these standards are part of a known platform used for these applications.

Common standards have also been achieved for managing quality of service, device security and power management by define Device Classes for the applications. These can allow the creation of an application-level functionality for these particular functions.

All in all, the UPnP concept has come a long way since 1999 but there still need to be a lot more work to do to make it pervasive.

Celebrations – from communication with Toby Nixon

People that had established the UPnP Forum such as Karen Stash (original UIC President), Jawad Khaki (original executive sponsor from Microsoft) and Salim AbiEzzi (original UPnP Steering Committee chair) appeared for the celebrations.

Six people had received “Outstanding Contributor Award” – Shivaun Albright of Hewlett-Packard (Chair of Imaging Working Committee & Architecture Committee), John Ritchie of Intel (long time chair of AV Working Committee & Technical Committee),Hans-Joachim Langels of Siemens (co-chair of Home Automation & Security Working Committee), Tom McGee of Philips (second president of UIC), Karen Stash of Microsoft and Toby Nixon of Microsoft. They also gave recognition to Karen Reff of VTM who has left that company in September 2007 and moved on.

As part of the dinner party, they also viewed a slide show of images from past UPnP events and a presentation on the history of the UPnP Forum and various key milestones associated with the technology.

There will be more information “from the horse’s mouth” when the UPnP Forum run the official press release on October 18 which is the actual 10th anniversary date.

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