Over the past few years, we've seen consumer networking products get really cheap. While cheap in a currency sense is great, we're unfortunately left experiencing the same of product quality (usually while grimacing at the "getting started" manual). Consumer networking gear has been on a race to the bottom. Okay, maybe that sounds a bit harsh, but read on and I'll try to clear up what I mean and what the core networking team in Windows is doing about it.

As with most software, age becomes apparent as new usage scenarios arise. when you made that $35 wireless router purchase, your goal was probably living room web surfing from the new laptop without stringing a wire across the room. Many millions around the world had this same goal, and both network equipment providers (NEPs) and retail heard the calling. Products were built to address your scenario and all the hardware and software shortcuts cuts were made to meet a critical mass price point. This race to the bottom by all NEPs is evident by the considerable retail shelving space occupied by these products.

It took a few years to reach such a critical mass; however, as fate would have it, during this maturation phase new usage scenarios surfaced that exercise severe weaknesses in the many cheap networking products. Windows Vista is a prime example given the next-generation networking stack and focus on digital media experiences (such as live and recorded streaming of HDTV) through Media Center and Media Center Extenders including Xbox 360. Windows Vista unlocks many new experiences that cheap consumer networking gear degrades or sometimes completely inhibits.

A need existed to drastically improve the consumer network equipment ecosystem to ensure premium Vista scenarios are enabled as effortlessly as living room web surfing. This significant effort by many teams within core Windows networking, Xbox, and eHome (who bring you Media Center & Media Center Extender) resulted in a Certified for Windows Vista logo that is backed by strict requirements and a full suite of validation tests to ensure the highest product quality.

Considering that network QoS is dear to my heart, in the next few days I'll post about how we test these premium products for QoS support. In the mean time, you'll get a head start by reading this whitepaper from the Windows Rally website which details (at a high level) the requirements for receiving a Certified for Windows Vista logo.

This effort represents much more than a marketing spin (otherwise I wouldn't be so energized by it). If you are looking for consumer network gear that rocks, make sure the product sports this logo.

I'm eager to hear what you think and to answer any questions you have.

- Gabe Frost