IETF ready to save home network users and lose every friend they tell about it

IPv6 is vitally important, is headed to the home network and is sure death in any conversation

The Internet Engineering Task Force is considering setting up a working group that would spend a lot of time, effort and money working on a new set of secure networking standards for an audience that, if the Working Group members are lucky, will not care at all.

If they're not lucky, the potential customer base will view the whole thing as just another way to rip them off, the same way the music industry did when it made them buy all their music on EPs, then LPs, then 8-track, cassette and CDs, then gave it all away on free MP3 downloads. (Note to the RIAA: the preceding paragraph was satiric; everyone knows MP3 downloads are not free; bandwidth costs money.)

IETF is talking about forming a working group to hammer out protocols needed to run IPv6 into the home – an effort that will get less than no support from the customers who live there.

IPv6 – probably the most dichotomous major change in the computer industry – became an obsession for one segment of the geeknoscenti and an absolute yawner for everyone else.

Without IPv6 we would have run out of Internet addresses, been battered through even more security holes than we have been and would be suffering the slow decline in performance of a network grown too big for the language it uses to communicate with itself.

Without IPv6 or something like it, in relatively short order, the Internet would be toast.

There are plenty of good reasons to extend the reach of IPv6 to the home – which is becoming to the Internet what the corporate departmental LAN was a few years ago: the swamp inside which dozens of connected devices chattered across badly organized, insecure networks, trying to make contact with the more ordered world using garbled protocols, interspersed with huge flows of data in or out, often carrying a tang of malware, copyright violation and imagery with the potential to destroy careers.

Who wouldn't want to make all those pools of iniquity fully functioning members of the IPv6 Internet community?

Luckily almost all the work will be done by vendors, who will build into home-networking devices enough intelligence and idiot-proofing to let a single, technically illiterate home connect all its varied and aging devices using both IPv4 and IPv6 and link with the outside world using a range of new and obsolete security protocols, non-standard and ill-advised physical links (Xbox-to-powerline-to-WiFi-to-Ethernet-to-satellite! Cool!).

And, just as they did with the transition from WLAN protocols 802.11 a, b, g, d, n, q, X and infinity, they'll do it in a way that will force all the idiot hardware inside the average homeowner's house (I'm one of the greatest offenders in this) to shape up and at least emulate the new rules so they can all keep talking to the rest of the Internet so none of the mission-critical MMORPGs or social networking falls by the wayside.

Wouldn't want a raiding clan to be disappointed at a no-show just because the new switch speaks IPv6 and Opie's school-approved laptop doesn't.

That's really patronizing and insulting, of course. But consumers, for the most part, don't want to know anything about the details of how you connect them to Facebook and will resist if you try to tell them.

You know it's true because it has happened to you more than once (probably more than once this week).

Geekery is fascinating to geeks and numbingly dull to other people unless something dramatic is happening (which usually means a disaster).

The problem, for those of us who are evangelistic about our love of geekery, is that the luddites are right. They shouldn't have to know anything about networking or IPv6, or internetworking standards or conversion tables or anything else.

There shouldn't be a huge learning curve just to get a $20 switch to talk to the router on one end and the Netflix-enabled TV on the other.

If there is, whoever designed the systems did it wrong.

IT is supposed to make things work, not make people work on it. That applies much less in corporations where IT needs to tune and customize everything to reduce the potential for blooey escaping from userland every 20 minutes.

In the home, where making sure most of the living creatures are fed most days is enough of a challenge for most two-career couples, making customers spend extra time fixing a network connection that goes flaky every time the humidity spikes or the NASDAQ crashes is a sin.

It has to be simple and it has to be invisible.

With gear designed for home users, I'm thrilled (no kidding) to say, it usually is.

I hope for the same with the IPv6 conversion, which was too architecturally abstruse and technically dense even for most IT people do to more than nod at the right point in meetings and confirm to everyone who asked that IPv6 is vital even if they, personally, have no involvement in it.

Ladies and gentlemen of the impending IPv6 IETF home networking working group, I salute you. I wish you good luck in making IPv6 as big a deal in home networking as it became in corporate IT, and that it doesn't take something as big as the assignment of the very last IPv4 addresses to make people show their love for v6.

I also warn you that no one you ever want to impress is going to pay the least bit of attention to the important (seriously) work you will do.

As with plastic surgery and public relations, if the people you are trying to impress even see that your work was done, you've done something wrong.

Just remember there is nobility difficult work, done well, especially when it is unacclaimed and anonymous.

Good luck, whoever you are, or someday will be, I suppose, if the working group goes forward. I probably won't be paying much attention.

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