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Michael Powell's other new board seat: CMWare

Posted by: Peter Burrows on March 28, 2007

Former FCC chairman Michael Powell made some news the other day, with the announcement that he’d joined the board of directors of networking giant Cisco Systems. It turns out Cisco CEO John Chambers extended the offer to him a couple of months ago, says Powell. He says that when Chambers first came a-lobbying back during the Boom, he realized they shared a common view about the Net’s ability to change not just the business world but also improve our personal lives and affect society at large. That view “seemed kind of corny back then. But now it seems to be more and more correct.” Of course, Powell’s pull in Washington won’t hurt Cisco, either.

But Powell has also joined another board of late. It's a Plainsboro, NJ company called CMWare, that he believes is poised to elevate place-shifting from a nichey techno-curiosity to a mass market phenonomon. Essentially, the company believes it has created a technology that can be embedded in almost any cell-phone (not just high-end smart phones with fully functional built-in browsers, or in gizmos that are compatible with the buy pokey "wait and pay" WAP standard) or Net-connected device, to let the owner grab content off their main PC.

Unlike other place-shifting technologies, which are mostly about grabbing digital photos or music or presentations from your PC (or in the case of Slingbox, for grabbing your Tivo'd TV shows to be viewed on your laptop), CMWare says its technology allows users to use their PC applications via their cell phone as if they were pecking at its keyboard (in reality, the user is interacting with an image of the app that is streamed from the PC, or is stored in a server hosted by CMWare). That means you could edit your docs, or in the latest twist on some age-old tech visions, use your cell-phone to lower the temperature or draw the blinds in your digitally automated home of the future. "It's the ultimate remote control for your PC," says CEO J. Gerard Aguilar, who figures the technology could work on 600 million phones now being used.

The company even suggests you could download more content to your PC, and then access it on your phone--even DRMed content, such as songs from iTunes. That's because the company claims the content never actually runs on the mobile device; the user is just hearing what's on their PC, "much as a wireless speaker works," reads its press release. Sounds convenient--though you can bet this will be challenged if CMWare takes off as Powell hopes.

No doubt, its a grand ambition. But Powell says the company has the potential to stand out from the crowd. "I see CMWare's software as a platform for two-way movement of applications to and from handsets, and in a unique way. I'm not a big fan of WAP or [browsing the Web using a phone)." But letting consumers or businesspeople interact with their PCs in a way that's familiar to them could become "something they would do every day. The cell phone is going to be the one thing the average person has them all the time. It’s going to be the Star Trek communicator. When I watch my kids, this is the extension of their left hand. That’s really powerful distribution point. Isn’t there a lot more we could do with it than make phone calls and do instant messaging?"

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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