Computing everywhere…

 

 I read a piece recently where a disgruntled user wrote to Steve Jobs after a bad experience with his new Apple laptop and the CEO apparently himself (through his Executive Assistant that is) that the complainant gets a new computer. This was a great (though much debated in that little space of the blogosphere that it inhabited) event and references may be found at http://www.consumerist.com. Others like I admitted that this showed that he was god – a few snickers though did suggest that it was in fact a PR exercise. And well I knew he had to do it; in the background Rupert Murdoch and it is then speculated Google also made a bid for Dow Jones. Not to be left behind, Microsoft did its bid for Yahoo! A recent reference to the Rockefeller Crucible in an investment letter spoke about the way Standard Oil in America increased its monopoly perfectly legally and how CEOs of companies who are today following the same philosophy are returning fantastic share holder value. It would not be so much monopoly as I think the right word is Oligopoly and to quote as usual the wiki – ‘…. is a common market form. As a quantitative description of oligopoly, the four-firm concentration ratio is often utilized. This measure expresses the market share of the four largest firms in an industry as a percentage. Using this measure, an oligopoly is defined as a market in which the four-firm concentration ratio is above 40%. For example, the four-firm concentration ratio of the supermarket industry in the United Kingdom is over 70%; the British brewing industry has a staggering 85% ratio. In the U.S.A, oligopolistic industries include accounting & audit services, tobacco, beer, aircraft, military equipment, motor vehicle, film and music recording industries…..’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oligopoly). A large part of where the world is going will be controlled by a few people; it already is to a great extent. In those times you just hope that the people in charge have some benevolence around them and believe in their talk and would do their bit for the little guy out there.

 

In 1996 I read Nicholas Negroponte’s book on the Digerati where the future now will not be so much about molecules as they will be about bits and bytes. If you are following courier and logistics company stocks I am certain you will point out that these people seem not to be going out of business but quite on the contrary seem to be moving that much more of molecules every year. Which is in fact true as goods will have to move around and you cannot really imagine (yet) that you are wearing and electronic Nike shoes but hey any one who has seen Star Trek – the TV show will remember ‘…Scotty, beam me up….’ and god bless that actor’s soul; his ashes were a few days back sent to deep space as he had requested. There are people working in that line I am sure and as many a black hole or other such deep space time conundrum will soon open up at the particle accelerators at France and Switzerland we will find a way to get things across. You must off course not miss the irony that the protocol that got this giant network of networks out from the labs to the world wide web was invented at CERN – le Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire (European Council for Nuclear Research) which might today also be the place the next big discovery that makes mockery of time and space and media as we know it now! Companies understand about labs and that is why when they buy – they take the engineers and the tech staff – the scientists as it were. In the early part of the 20th century AT&T understood that to push the envelopes of technology and maintain its grip on the market; it was needed to push the envelopes of technology to levels  that the labs of universities would not be themselves be able to do. Yet the question often comes up – had http been invented at private labs wouldn’t the fact of royalty’s perhaps have curbed what it has now been able to do?

 

I think computing should be about free and the recent announcement of the ministry of HRD at India stating that a target of getting a laptop PC down to $10 an unit has been taken up. They had earlier turned down Mr. Negroponte’s offer of the OLPC at $100 an unit. This is ambitious and knowing Indian ingenuity and the fact that we achieved terra flops of computing with our own home made machines. The PARAM Padma from CDAC at Pune has an heritage of being in the top 500 supercomputer lists of the world the stated objective there was to beat a price and performance point. There are many such examples and options for getting the prices down and we have not yet begun on what the Chinese can do once they set their mind to the task! The OLPC is in fact made at Taiwan and one of the main reason that per port costs of many telecom solutions and systems have come down are because of the rise of the Chinese and the Indian consumer who would knock prices down to derive value. In 1998 there was a privately owned telephone company here at India that provided cellular telephony to their market (the government defined cell phone circles of Tamilnadu and Kerala) at less than two and a half American cent a minute. Indian mobile telephony is actually an industry with the lowest price point to the end customer and the highest entry cost to the operators and yet it represents a huge opportunity. Also Tamilnadu and Kerala are the two states at India that have taken the most aggressive steps to move to open source software.

 

I think computing is going that way – like it or not the future will have to be about little mobile private hand held devices that are small but with strong deep embedded technology to enhance connectivity and productivity and at the lowest end of this device spectrum – they will probably be free. I think it is more likely than ever that we will use mobile phones for more than just to speak into and just take a look a Nokia’s latest product the N95 as an harbinger; ‘it is not one thing it is many’..http://nds1.nokia.com/tutorials/support/apac/phones/n95/apac_english/index.html..  Dr. Schmidt at Google calls it the dawn of ‘cloud computing’. I think true – the hard drives are going to soon congeal into a ‘cloud’ of disk arrays and SANs and NASs if they do not first become as a recent announcement from Dell of a flash based hard drive laptop showcased; completely based on microprocessors elements that remove the need for that physical fast spinning magnetic storage as we know it now. The flip side is things are going to need I would imagine then a lot of cooling and don’t let us even get started on what that may do for global warming. The new class of Penryn and other such exotic named processors and the road maps of the chip makers seem to indicate that the future will be about more that 8 ‘cores’ – a server on a chip would then be possible. With data exchange rates reaching terabytes also  – why not have the applications all resident in the server farms – which can in the future store perhaps more data per square inch than off the present day hard drive based ones and have them pulled by hand held devices by users. Thin client computing as in the past but in a mighty different shape and form factor and application density. A company called Microvision is in fact developing miniature photo displays – projectors that can be connected to mobiles etc. to show their content to larger spaces. The possibilities are mind blowing and they are venture capital backed at the moment but the direction it shows is that things are going to be about more immersive computing if not ubiquitous and the chances are the battle of the free ware / open source initiative against the other corporate guys will have kind of become irrelevant as both will co exist possibly in discrete spheres of influence. The servers will run the paid versions and the client devices will possibly work with a mix of free and paid soft ware – but prices will be very low $1 perhaps – which will be relevant since they will be one time use types mostly. The personal computer will possibly not die – there is a requirement always for a massive storage device with a display and a logic processor to be your back up and I think that is a space it will take with ever more layers of back ups like i Pods and other storage based computing and perhaps gaming equipment. And media will also probably become free – no more DMCA and RIAA and attempts at controlling the storage media that an user pays for but more creative commons http://creativecommons.org – the spiritus mundi – where it is not about the economics any longer.

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About Soumya
A technology enthusiast, forever enamored by all that it hath wrought and of course here is an attempt at making sense of it all and perhaps simplifying it!

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