Someone at the National Science Foundation once told me – “Never call your software a platform. That means it has lost its focus. Once you’re as big as Oracle, you can use the word platform.”  That comment has stuck with me for more than a decade, and I’ve always tried to keep software creation laser-like focused on the problem it solves directly. But I do think that the platform is still important to consider.

Platforms involve both the software and the hardware that it runs on. In most cases, a product’s platform is application software + commodity hardware – this is the case for the apps on your smartphone as well as the enterprise applications on your desktop PC.

In the world of AV, there are a much larger set of platforms out there, and many of our resellers must consider the implications of adopting one particular platform over another. For example if the platform is firmware + proprietary hardware (i.e. a typical video switcher) or custom software + proprietary hardware (a hard video teleconferencing codec box), the decisions can be difficult and have huge implications for integration.  It is a big commitment. (I doubt Cisco will let users return their C20s because they think it doesn’t keep up with times).

This is why I’ve often thought that the best products (and this applies to the AV space too) are those that stick firmly to the software + commodity hardware model. This platform has, time-and-time again, proven itself to be a far greater catalyst for innovation than other options. I recently presented some of these ideas during a webinar, held by SCN Magazine related to display software and the future of collaboration.  (You can hear it here.)

There are many reasons that software + commodity hardware is a far more innovative platform than things like custom software, specialized hardware and complex services. Probably the most important is that the software does not rely on specialized attributes of the hardware beneath it. This decouples the software from the hardware life-cycle and enables a much faster evolution. Users are the big winners in this scenario as they get new features, fixes and enhancements at the speed of software and not the typical 2-3 year life-cycle of the hardware.  Comparing the rate of change between software and hardware cycles feels like comparing human years to dog years!

That said, this can be a two-way street when we are talking about standards-based, commodity hardware. In this case, the hardware is decoupled from the software, and new hardware advances can be “swapped in” when they are available simply by installing already-purchased software on the new hosts. This model breaks when specialized hardware is inserted into the equation. A great example of this is AV-specialized hardware designed for wireless streaming that embeds its own wireless access point commits is hard to update and tied the customer to that hardware technology.  Then what happens when the world advances? Wireless 802.11ac anyone?

At Mersive, we live by the software + commodity hardware philosophy.  This is what led us to introduce pure software solutions into the AV reseller/dealer channel. Much to the chagrin of some of the industry analysts who believe the AV channel only wants to sell proprietary hardware, we have found great success. As much as I’d like to claim it is all about our product and partners that have brought us this success, it is partly due to the underlying principle that end users are looking to decouple software from propriety hardware every chance they get.

SolsticeAppliace

One of our partners, BTX, definitely understands the importance of the commodity hardware+software model for the AV community.  BTX recently introduced a standard PC platform that carries a pre-installed version of Solstice on it as the “Solstice Appliance”.  This is the embodiment of AV / IT convergence.  We are on the cusp of the AV community embracing and selling commodity computers with audio-visual software pre-installed (in our case, focused on collaboration) just like they would sell a custom wall controller.  Pretty exciting and forward looking for BTX to have made this leap. So, while I’ll probably never refer to Solstice (with a big “S”) as a “platform” for collaboration.  I’m happy to see that its been deployed onto a platform that is both future proof and that the AV community can embrace.

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About Christopher Jaynes

Jaynes received his doctoral degree at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst where he worked on camera calibration and aerial image interpretation technologies now in use by the federal government. Jaynes received his BS degree with honors from the School of Computer Science at the University of Utah. In 2004, he founded Mersive and today serves as the company's Chief Technology Officer. Prior to Mersive, Jaynes founded the Metaverse Lab at the University of Kentucky, recognized as one of the leading laboratories for computer vision and interactive media and dedicated to research related to video surveillance, human-computer interaction, and display technologies.

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