Evolution Shift
A Future Look at Today
September 13th, 2007

Sometimes it is Easy to See the Future – 5

To quote from one of the four prior posts with this title:

“While in many areas it might be difficult to see into the future, in the area of technology the future can be readily seen.  The speed of technological invention and innovation moves so quickly that we have barely assimilated a recent breakthrough when another shows up to knock us back on our heels again.  While these innovations do provide a glimpse of our future, they can be disorienting in that they show us that the Present that we are struggling to accept and assimilate will soon be outdated.”

Cloud computing is the name given to the rapidly growing movement of software and storage onto the web. Rather than having all of ones’ software, documents, pictures and email files stashed on the hard drive of a desk top or notebook computer, it will soon be possible to have all of ones digital life reside on a secure place on the web.  While on-line back-up has been around for a while, the breakthrough for cloud computing is that the software one uses will be on the web, not in the computer.  This is the high level battleground between the decades’ old PC model of Microsoft and the more recent Net-centric vision of Google.

Perhaps Bill Gate’s most famous quote is his founding vision for Microsoft:  “A PC on every desktop”.  The manifestation of that vision is the world domination of the Microsoft Empire.  Whether one likes Microsoft or not, this manifested vision helped to fuel one of the great technological transformations in history.  There is more computing power in my  condo building than NASA had available to support the initial trip to the moon and my laptop has more computing power than was on the spacecraft.  There were more computers sold in the world last year than existed on the entire planet in 1981 when the PC was launched.

Of course the Internet has altered that vision.  Many people now spend more time on the Internet than they do on the contents of their hard drive.  First there was the dissemination of computers to desks, then they got connected by the Net and now the connectedness is becoming more important than what is on the computer.  The next step is that the computer just becomes a connecting device.  Exponentially increasing bandwidth and traffic on the Internet backbone combined with rapidly expanding wireless access and expanding wireless bandwidth has now prepared us for the next step in mobile computing.

All that will be needed for a mobile computing device will be a keyboard, a screen, as ISB port and wireless connectivity.  If one wants to download a file from the Net, then a flash drive with one or more gigabytes of storage can be plugged into the device.  The weight can be less than a pound, the power needs will drop dramatically so the image of road warriors seeking power outlets at airports, or leaning into the weight of their computer bags will become a thing of the past.  Taking it a step further, perhaps all one will need is a lightweight, collapsible keyboard as the screens on airplane seatbacks or flat screen panels every where will have connectivity to the Net.  No longer will there be a fear of losing a laptop or of a computer crash.  The hardware problems of computing will dramatically lessen.

The business ramifications of Cloud computing will be astounding.  The entire economic models of the software business will change.  The entire economic model of the hardware business will change.  Shareware, freeware and connectivity will rule the day.  There will be merging of the hardware, software and connectivity businesses.  In this world it is easy to see Google producing a “Cloudbook” device or Microsoft renting rather than selling its’ Net based software.

Cloud computing will certainly not replace the existing landscape of computing, but it will alter it.  Whenever there is a paradigm shift in some market or area it always alters the usage patterns, protocols and economics of that space. We are moving toward the science fiction visions of William Gibson and Neal Stephenson where people “jack-in” to the Cyberspace parallel reality.

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In times of global uncertainty and disruption it takes a futurist to provide context and understanding.

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