|The Future of Personal Computing|
|Created: Mon, 26 Apr 2010 13:20:32 GMT in Tech|
|The following is an expository essay I wrote in 2008 on my view of the future of personal computing and computing in general. I have recently read Nicholas Carr's "The End of Corporate Computing" (excerpt only, need to pay to download full version from MIT) and wrote a summary and commentary on it for university. I remembered this essay and decided I would publish it here and reference it in the commentary I wrote for UCT. Basically I discuss how we are facing a centralization of computing resources in terms of cloud computing and software as a service. Read for yourself. The essay on Carr's article will follow in a later post. I am publishing both essays under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works
2.5 South Africa. The full PDF can be downloaded here.|
The Future of Personal ComputingWe have lived through an extraordinary past decade, the cell phone entered its path to success, internet became readily available to nearly anyone, anywhere, and most of all, personal computers have become a powerful and indispensible tool in our lives, serving as a portal to a worldwide network containing a considerable amount of all human knowledge we have managed to accumulate in the past millennia. But what does the future hold for personal computers, will there still be such a thing as a personal computer or will we all be interlinked to huge data centers without any specific hardware at home? We shall further explore this question in the following essay.
by Michael Hubbard
First of all, we need a definition of a personal computer. Common sense and understanding tells us that a personal computer is a computer you use for basic office work, gaming and internet research as well as other such applications. It can handle the computing needs of one individual and is usually not larger than a mid-sized box.
The success of the personal computer is largely based on the ease of use and huge variety of tasks one can complete with it, as well as its relatively cheap price tag, starting as low as R 2500. Ten years ago a personal computer could not complete much more than spreadsheet and word processing, basic slide shows and database functions and was mainly aimed at business users. Nowadays the operating systems are aimed at entertainment, even during business, by adding nifty graphic effects, little icons all over the place and a generally warm and homely feel. Actually, millions of personal computers are even used to compute in huge scientific networks folding protons or searching for extra-terrestrial life (e.g. folding@home or seti@home which both use resources personal computers are not using to fold protons or search radio waves for signs of alien life).
In contrast to personal computers we must of course also elaborate on their counterparts, the so-called supercomputers. These have massive computing power, occupy huge halls and consume the power of a small rural town. Recently supercomputers have been able to go over 1 TFlop/s, meaning that they can do over 1 trillion calculations per second (such as 1+1, a trillion times a second). To put this into proportion, the average personal computer can do about 0,5 - 1 GFlop/s, which is 0,5 - 1 Billion calculations.
But without wanting to bore you with these nerdy facts we will move on to the actual topic, the future of personal computing. In the past years we have experienced a huge surge in internet usage and outsourcing of applications (such as word processing or image editing) onto remote servers on the internet. This has the advantage that the user can access his files from every computer in the world that has internet access and can edit them in the same environment all the time, not being hindered by linguistic barriers or file compatibility. The result is that the personal computer is evolving into just an access point; there is no local storage being used, hardly any local processing power and a lot less electricity, as well. This results in lower running costs, less expenditure on additional storage space and no necessity for faster processors. On the downside there is the reliance on a constant, fast internet connection, as well as the high usage of bandwidth. In Europe and North America this may not be an issue but in South Africa, though we might have broadband internet access, we do not have free unlimited bandwidth, high-speed internet at an affordable rate and the connection can be very instable at times. Not to mention the dozens of countries that are far lesser developed than us.
Looking into the future, though, we must see that global connection is imminent and we will always be within reach of some kind of internet access. Now imagine if instead of ordering that huge box of a computer and a monitor from your hardware supplier you just get a “Data Terminal” which consists of a monitor with either wireless or cabled internet connection and a built-in basic operating system, a Keyboard and a mouse. You will be connecting to one of the major so-called cloud computing providers (currently Google and Amazon, Microsoft has announced it was entering the market just recently; this system is called cloud-computing because huge “clouds” of data and information are stored in data centers and downloaded in part to external personal computers). These providers’ data-centers store the data of millions of people around the world. Instead of buying a program on a CD you subscribe to it online and have it added to your profile. You log on and then you have what looks like any personal computer now does: a desktop, application icons, a menu, and all your personal data.
But the difference is, no matter where you log into your account, if it’s Cape Town, New York or Bangladesh, all you need is your username and password and a “Data Terminal” and you can access all your data from anywhere in the world. The system will be running in your home language, you won’t have to worry around with a Chinese operating system when travelling to Beijing, Suomi in Finland or French when you’re on holiday in Québec city.
This may not seem as much of a revelation to you if you are not a computer enthusiast (commonly known as a “geek” or “nerd”), but the fact is that this could change our whole word around, just as the step from buying computing time from university mainframes (“supercomputers”; current personal computers have more power) to the first personal computers, such as the Apple II.
A result of the above shift in this vital component of our lives could be the final substantial stone needed in the foundation of the 21st century, the century of global connectivity and global knowledge. This will enable people without the finances for a personal computer, high-speed internet connection and the bloated electricity bill to take part in global social exchange. With your data being stored remotely and accessible from all over you can use any internet café to do all of your work. Is this the recipe to a global home? A global office? Or even near-complete global knowledge? This only the future can tell us.
Please let me know what you think, I will post the new essay soon. This essay was written towards the end of 2008 by the way.
|Tags: personal computing future essay expository nicholas carr the end of corporate computing|