Not many things have changed in Las Vegas since my last visit a couple of years ago.
The San Remo Hotel has renamed itself Hooters and has hired bustier waitresses, and Steve Wynn's golf course is finally finished. But as the Las Vegas illusionist Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller) points out every night during his show, the city's greatest asset is still the bad mathematics skills of its millions of visitors. They keep on coming.
So do the tech heads and computer companies, drawn each year to the Consumer Electronics Show, now in its 40th year. To celebrate the milestone, the organisers dug out some photos from the first CES show held in 1967 in New York. They show a group of middle-aged, suited men standing around a Hitachi computer the size of an ATM. How things have changed. The gadgets are smaller and smarter than ever, if not cheaper.
If there was a theme at the CES this year, it was that the convergence of digital devices that's been promised for so long has arrived at a level that consumers can relate to. Everywhere I looked, companies were showing off new devices that gather all your digital content and serve it up to your mobile devices or to other locations via the internet.
A good example is the debut of Microsoft's Windows Home Server, new software that lets you back up and store all your digital media in one place and access it via a web browser when you're away from home. I've been doing this for years in a rudimentary sense using an FTP (file transfer protocol) server. All I need to access them is an internet connection and a web browser. Windows Home Server extends this concept to home computer users and makes it easy to use.
It's designed for homes with multiple PCs, Xbox 360 consoles and digital cameras, so people can share the documents, photos, music and video on those computers, and avoid losing any data if one of the machines fails.
Rather than replicating the features of Microsoft's new operating system, Windows Vista, Home Server is based on the Windows Server 2003 platform, which is generally used by businesses to share files across their networks.
Home Server sets up separate accounts for everyone in the family and organises folders of their files on an external storage device, separate from the computer. Several manufacturers are climbing on board as hardware providers. The most prominent one at CES was Hewlett Packard with its MediaSmart Server, which has bays for including the hard drives to hold your digital content, and software tools to help you organise and access it.
The idea is that you hide the HP box out of sight. It's a computer without a screen or keyboard. It's connected to your network router via an Ethernet cable and backs up the entire contents of your computers every day.
One of the most useful features of Home Server will be used away from the home. Remote Connect lets you log on to the server remotely via a secure web browser connection. Microsoft says it will offer on Windows Live free web domains for Home Server users. With all this digital content now at our fingertips, security and access restrictions will be crucial, but the benefits are potentially huge.
- HERALD ON SUNDAY