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Now, a PC that controls your home

IBM's Home Director will turn the PC into the center of a home network, controlling such things as air conditioners, lights, and coffee makers.

IBM (IBM) is broadening its effort to make the PC the center of a home network.

The company says it has begun selling its Home Director technology in retail stores throughout the U.S. market. Home Director can control household appliances such as air conditioners, lights, coffee makers, and alarms.

Home Director controls appliances from a PC which acts as a server, or the hub of a home network. The household electrical wiring serves as the network "connection."

According to IBM, Home Director includes features that:

  • can automatically set lights to go on or off according to the user's geographic location.

  • "learn" the usage patterns of lights and appliances and later replay the same patterns to make the home looked lived in.

  • enable the software to operate even when the PC is turned off.

    Home Director will be available at Circuit City stores sometime this summer for $99, IBM says.

    IBM also is searching for other ways to make the PC the server for the home. Within the next few months, the company will introduce a so-called Convergence PC with built-in digital satellite capability.

    Big Blue has already demonstrated the digital satellite technology using an Aptiva PC with 200-MHz Pentium MMX and TV tuner card hooked up to a digital satellite system. The DSS-enabled PC uses Microsoft-supplied software called the Electronic Program Guide, which launches a television program guide along with a live TV window. The software will allow users to select from a menu of programs.

    The PC-as-server for the home network is likely only to have limited appeal to consumers in the near future. This is because PCs are still expensive devices that are relatively complicated to use and set up. Some companies such as WebTV, Diba, and Acorn are developing easier-to-use "information appliances," which have a more limited set of functions than PCs but are easier to use.