It may have escaped your notice, but Windows 98 was launched last month. It's pretty much accepted that it's nothing groundbreaking - a couple of bits, some clever tweaks, but hardly a revolution in home computing.
But beneath the hype of the new operating system, Microsoft is adding its weight to a revolution of sorts. Under the slogan of 'work better, play better', the vendor is making a big fuss about DVD.
And why not? DVD will be the next major standard in the PC market, especially in its rewriteable RAM format. It will initially have a capacity of 2.6Gb but that will soar to 17Gb. It's not hard to see it's going to be a winner.
But hold on. Despite the hype, DVD sales haven't been as huge as everyone expected; Neretin Associates reckons sales in the US have been less than half what was predicted.
It's CD-RW that's making all the running at the moment, and while DVD+RW from Sony and Phillips (which shouldn't even be called DVD at all, according to most vendors) threatens to muddy the water still further.
So what's been holding back the adoption of DVD? The biggest problem is that there simply aren't enough applications available. There's no point in buying a DVD drive if you've got nothing to play on it. Incidentally, Microsoft does not appear to be practising what it preaches here and hasn't released Win98 in DVD format.
But Infotech believes the DVD market will rise to 6.5 million units by the end of 1998, and with OEM prices for drives heading towards the $100 mark, DVD-ROMs will be available in mid-range PCs by the end of the year.
On the subject of money, it's not the falling price of DVD that will ensure its success, but rather the falling price of CD. If the great buying public doesn't jump at DVD, then the manufacturers will push them.
You see, there's no money in CD anymore. It's become such a commodity product that vendors are all but selling at cost. They're desperate for something new to come to market and if they move away from CD, the uptake of DVD will be all the more rapid.
Even so, it's not DVD-ROM that will answer vendors' prayers. DVD's capacity is a tremendous advance over CD but it is the rewriteable format, RAM, that everyone's ready to die for.
But while most people consider DVD-RAM to be months, if not years away, DVD-RAM drives that cost a couple of hundred pounds are gathering dust on the shelves. We're all waiting for the compatibility problems to be sorted. At the moment, single-sided drives won't read double-sided discs, and you can't read DVD-RAM in DVD-ROM drives. Oh, and DVD-RAM comes in caddy, but DVD-ROM doesn't. Confused? Don't worry, we all are.
It will probably be a good year or two before DVD-RAM really starts to take off, but when it does, it looks set to dominate the desktop market.
That's what IDC predicts: it says DVD had a one per cent share of the optical storage market in 1997. This year, it will be 14 per cent and by 2001, nearly nine out of 10 users will prefer it.
DVD will also move into areas traditionally dominated by tape and floppy drives. It will be the ultimate in removable storage. So it's not surprising Microsoft is keen. But perhaps it's linking Win98 a little too closely with DVD. The claim that it 'provides DVD' is maybe arrogant on Microsoft's part. Sure, it has built-in support for one or two decoders, but you can actually play DVDs on nearly all platforms.
DVD isn't Microsoft's baby. The DVD forum has debated the standard for the past few years. It now boasts more than 170 members and the steering committee consists of all the leading vendors.
Microsoft's push on DVD will do nothing but good in bringing it to the attention of the wider public. But its development will be very much a team game.
Richard Williams is editor of Ingram Micro's IT Network magazine.
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