I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that for the bulk of home owners out there, the great promise of a networked 'digital home' has been all noise and no substance.
Despite all the hype and bluster of industry giants such as Intel and Microsoft, the promise has to date only been realised by the small percentage of the market that can afford high end products and services from specialist integrators, and a handful of technical folk armed with the skills necessary to install their own kit.
Even people with a reasonable grasp of networking can struggle when installing equipment in the home. Things like conflicting IP addresses, the assigning of ports or knowing what a 'subnet mask' can be very daunting for the uninitiated.
Networking vendor D-Link claims to have come up with a solution, an over-arching product strategy it calls D-Life.
"Until now, a user goes to set up a media player, and they are asked to choose a Static IP address or DHCP," explains Michael Scott, technical media manager at D-Link. "Thats where my mom and dad throw their hands up in the air."
"The thought behind D-Life is to get rid of all that - get rid of the IP addresses, the acronyms, the confusing numbers and jargon. It is about making products that people can plug in and just make it work."
Under its D-Life strategy, future home networking products from D-Link, be they media players, security web-cams, network attached storage, dual-mode phones, digital photo frames, wireless printers and the like, all come with a unique pin and serial number. When a user buys one of these products, they log in to a free account at www.d-life.com and punch in the serial numbers of the new product they are attempting to install (the serial number comes as a sticker on the base of each device).
This activates the D-Link products to configure themselves, as it gives them an awareness of what other nodes/devices are on the same network. If a web-cam or media player detects that a camviewer screen or a digital photo frame is added to the network, it assumes that the screen is the destination for its content and configures itself accordingly. If a device is added to the network that has the same IP address as another, it dynamically changes its own address to ensure there is no conflict.
At present D-Link only has a limited range of D-Life ready products available in the US. Scott expects the rest of the world (including Australia) to follow within six months. Then the vendor will carry the D-Life strategy throughout its next generation of home networking products into the foreseeable future.
The catch? The system is only going to be easier for the average user if you all the products in the network are D-Life products. Add a product from Linksys or Netgear, for example, and you may need to sharpen up those networking skills after all.
In that sense D-Life is a clever way that D-Link can encourage customers into buying a complete suite of its (relatively inexpensive) products.
Scott says users need not fear being 'locked-in' to the D-Link brand.
"One of the criteria when we were developing this is that it cannot be proprietary," Scott said. "It has to work with Netgear or Linksys router. The products are self-aware enough that is a D-Link camera joins the network on the same IP address as a Netgear router, it reconfigures itself."