Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Day -2 - The Ghost of Computing Past and Future

The anticipation for teh CR-48 is killing me. Not quite literally.

I've been giving quite a bit of thought about the "Future of Computing." I guess the launch of the CR-48 has brought into focus a lot of trends going on, so I wanted to get it down as text.

Guessing Games

Hypothesizing in this area is really a strange thing, because it is...random. I don't mean random like a 15 year old girl means random. I mean there are so many variable's in play, that beyond basic market prediction, there is no real solid way to predict computing more than a few years ahead.

In a practical sense the whole idea of electronic computing was one of the most unforeseen events in human technological history. Airplanes and helicopters were sketched out by da Vinci centuries ago, because the basic principles once understood, were fairly elementary physics. It was just a matter of time to manufacture the correct materials for it to become a practical application.

Furthermore, it is a pretty basic system of advancement. Faster thrust + lighter materials + cheaper manufacturing methods = cheaper and more widespread air travel. Thus the last 100 years of flight were just waiting to happen for the longest time, and it's not a mind boggling concept.

But computing? Computing was totally not seen. No one expected it to happen until it was literally right on top of us. And while tech like Aviation progresses at a fairly linear (although technically not totally linear) rate, computing as a whole is progressing on a ridiculously steep, out of control curve. Moore's law states that the number of transistors placed on an integrated circuit can double every two years, limited only by bare physics in the sense of ability of certain materials to conduct (and we are finding better ones all the time. It's just about cost for them to enter the market). This same basic principle applies to pixel density, storage capacity, cost, network capacity, and the list goes on.

Things are getting way more powerful way quicker all the time.

The phone I have on the desk in front of me has more computing power than the desktop I went to college with-.... 4 years ago. 4 years.

Now, when it comes to the future, we can look at a couple things. (I should note, by the way, that I am not a developer, or manufacturer, or programmer, or anything -er except blogger. I just like tech, that's it. So take what I say with a hearty grain of salt and don't jump too hard on technical mistakes, although if you know something I don't tell me!).

The Players

First off, see where all the major players are going. The two long time big dogs, Microsoft and Apple, are going in two slightly different (although somewhat related) paths; as they always have. Apple is moving towards a new version of OSX which will contain modular computing in the interface, and heavily threaded multi-core in the background. There goal is pretty much the same as ever; show you the simplest things possible, and make it easy to do complicated stuff (whether they actually accomplish this goal or not is another discussion). Meanwhile Microsoft is banking quite a bit on the cloud, opening up new services for online access, and also taking point from some of Apple's software successes like iLife with their own Live suite. Frankly, I think Windows live is actually a better implementation, if nothing more than because it lets you use it how you want, or not at all, and it's not adding bundled cost. They aren't charging for things like Apple's MobileMe, and are instead giving away 25 gigs of online storage to anyone. Now, that isn't all that super to Linux users or heavy techies, but for mom and pop, it's good stuff.

On the other side of their plates is non-personal computer, or perhaps para-personal computing.

iPad's and tablets and smartphones and music players. Apple has a huge lead in this area, but Microsoft is doing some things right. The Zune users I know are far more addicted than most iPod users. Windows Mobile 7 looks slick, and is getting rave reviews. However, the iPad is the killer device that everyone and no one saw coming. It has ravaged the market. It is pillaging money all over the place. Deservedly so. Microsoft has nothing to match it.

Although Microsoft has this little thing:

called the Xbox 360 and the Kinect. Apple has nothing even moderately comparable. iPhone games? Give me a break. Not even in the same category. The Kinect, in particular, is Microsoft's iPhone, in the sense that this will change so many things. This is the technology that will give us real life interfaces like those that wowed in Minority Report. If Microsoft plays it right, it will kill. Kill. Absolutely kill (I can't say it enough).

The thing about those big two, is that no one stays big forever. I mean, they might. But IBM used to be the big guy on campus. They were dominant and massive and unassailable. In case you didn't know, they've been around since 1911, and had roots 15 years deeper then that, making cash registers and such. They were around a while and they were huge. They were the go-to guys during the computing rush.

Where are they now? Uh... I guess Lenovo bought them out for laptop designs, basically? They're kaput. Gone. Not important.

So yeah, the big guys have some ideas. But who knows how long they'll be big?

The Contenders

Meanwhile we have young spry little Google and it's step brother, Linux. Linux, as we all known, has been hanging around, mocking everyone else's subpar software for ages. I do it, you do it, Stallman sure as heck does it, and it's all gravy. The last couple years have been interesting for Linux, as it's been pushed in a few different directions, in some ways a compromise of what it originally stood for, or at least some would say. Embedded in E-readers and tablets and phones, not to mention many much weirder devices, Linux goes everywhere that has chips and memory. The last few years have seen the rise of Ubuntu as being a huge player in the Linux world for doing what no one else thought would happen: being a standard consumer operating system for people that didn't know what Sudo meant. People were using it. For real. Before this, the only real way Linux had been used by more than the experimental nerd was in huge server installations and the like.

But now it was real game time.

Well, sort of, anyway. Linux was still barely noticeable in most figures. Really, until Google got involved. Now, we have millions of Android phones all over the place, and they're easy to use, marketable, desirable, and actually good smart phones. Linux has proven that normal people will use it, so long as it's done up the right way.

And now? Google Chrome OS. Duh, it's at the top of the blog, right?

I think Google's right, sort of. When I got my android phone, seconds after the guy at the carrier place activated it and handed it to me, I was chatting with Benjamin Humphrey on Google Talk, and texting my girlfriend on Google Voice. All I did was log in and install an app or two and there was everything I need as far as Contacts and accounts and people. It was a breeze. I, of course, tweaked it quite a bit, but only because I wanted too and like too, not because it was necessary. A few days ago I had to send it off to get the antenna repaired, and they gave me a replacement. SD card out, in, log in, good to go. The clerk tried to take my phones back to transfer contact info and texts and stuff and I laughed and told him he didn't need too. He was a little confused but believed me.

It was awesome. Still is. If there's a problem with my phone, I could restore it to factory and have it back to what I need in only seconds longer then it takes to restore.

And now Google wants the same for the computer.

Is it possible? Probably. The only reservations I have is music and video and the like (the SD card I swapped from phone to phone) as there doesn't seem to be much for Chrome OS. But for the real stuff? Email and documents and accounts and all that? Easy. Done. Solid. I believe it now without even using Chrome OS, because it's just as easy with Chrome itself.

Even if the future of the operating system is not entirely in the cloud, there is some serious strength there.

Bring Us the Cloud

So listen up Ubuntu: you have Ubuntu One already. Why is it not built in to automatically save all the pertinent info and pull it down on a clean install? I mean seriously, install ubuntu, log in, put credentials into Ubuntu One, and then it syncs up Evolution, Gwibber, and Empathy accounts, Compiz settings, panel settings; pull up a list in Software Center of all the installed software and give me an option of what I need back and what I don't, and then what I do install, sync up all the settings. Theme, icons, everything.

Why not? I mean, yeah, there's a few difficulties here and there. But at least a significant portion of that should be there already. Windows and Apple should do the same. It should all be tied to You, so that your stuff gets put where it needs to be. Later on down the line when bandwidth is faster, then we can worry about music or pictures or whatever.

So the future? Half the cloud, at least. All devices tied to You, not the service it's on.


  1. Why even bother setting up the Computer, it would be cool to just insert a Live CD which asks me about my U1 Credentials before install, if i have an Account it will fetch the data from U1 and my Files and Settings will be synched during install so upon Login i will have my whole environment back without doing a single thing. If somebody doesn't use U1 it will just continue with a basic install.

    I guess the main Problem with all this Cloud Stuff is Security and Privacy, people just feel uncomfortable giving away info about their Software, Personal Settings or -behold- their Files cause they are afraid their data will after all be used to force more personalized Marketing on them or their Info might be sold to some shady Company.

    Also the pricing for Cloud Storage is unreasonable, who wants to pay a monthly fee for Disk Space that you already have on your Machine? If services want people in the Cloud they better give the Space for free and focus on producing Apps that can take advantage of your File Array cause thats what people are willing to pay money for, nobody wants to pay for Storage these days, that Train left a long time ago.

  2. Chrome OS will never replace windows or OSX. Though it is nice to get a free netbook from Google (I already have one).

  3. Joern: You have a point, except for when shipping computers out already installed. As far as practicality, I see it better to have the install be start it and leave it, needing no input except partitioning, and then everything else added later.

    Neil: Never say never. Windows and OSX might replace themselves.