Computers of the Future

Monday, November 7, 2005
My vision of the Computers of the Future

There has been a lot of talk about the future of the World Wide Web lately. Most of it is the normal fluff and excitement about the latest technology that is “new,” even though it’s been around forever. (In web standards, forever is about three years!) I think Google, Microsoft, and Sun are getting closer, but they’re not quite there.

As much as I hate to say it, I believe that the future embodiment of the computer is a terminal connected to a remote server somewhere on the web. Much like the mainframe paradigm, we will log into a thin client desktop machine. I don’t think it will be the thin client of today, though. I think we’ll see our desktop computers converge, similar to Scott McNealy’s grid computing vision, with the servers on the web.

We will have a complete computer, with a printer attached, CDROM drives, USB/Fire wire ports, and petabytes of hard drive space. The difference will be in how the machine is used and where our data is stored. I will have one user account. That’s all, just one. I log into my machine at home or work and get exactly the same desktop. My applications will be attached to me, not my machines. If I log into a computer at the local cyber-café I get the same desktop, with my applications.

I, for one, will never give up my local copy of data. Period. It won’t happen. So, my data would have to be stored securely at home and on my server account. Any changes I make to it at work will be replicated to my home machine and made available for access from everywhere else, etc.

Processing power will be shared, but engineered in a way that you’ll never have less power than your machine by itself. Storage could even be shared, if for instance me and another 3,000,000 users told our dvr device to record the same Smallville episode, we could all be accessing one copy of the file, sharing the storage space.

My file system would be a mixture of local folders and files, as well as web-links to my digital wares stored on the web. But, from my File Explorer it all looks the same. My music files for instance, would be stored on a server and shared like my Smallville and Lost episodes. I can get local copies for my disconnected devices such as my MP3 players, but those will probably be streaming my music from wifi connection points wherever I’m at in town anyway, so maybe I wouldn’t need a local copy at all.

My address book contacts would really be a reference to my contacts’ own personal virtual cards. Anytime, he or she updates their information, it is visible to me, because I’m really just looking at their data whenever I open my address book. I will specify who can see my contact information, using my global control panel, which is provided by my host.

Of course you wouldn’t have to have a computer desktop machine. Using a different account type you could use a (dumb) thin client like the ones of today to get to all of your applications and data stored on the web. This would be useful for those who simply want to use it for email, news, TV, phone, etc. These devices would probably be what the cyber-café’s will use.
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