I think I’ve bought my last desktop computer

A couple of years ago, I was all into and enjoyed building desktop computers, picking out the right video card, selecting the best motherboard and generally digging deep into the innards of my future computing platform. And designing the perfect ‘office’ computing environment with short cable runs, ample power for my accessories and lots of desktop space. Yes it was complex and involved and detailed, but it was a hobby — building computers.

These days, I’m not so concerned about it. What I need to do on a computer hasn’t changed, but the computing industry has matured, my needs are now becoming much more mainstream, and the significant differences between one component and another aren’t quite so significant any more.

Put another way, what I have been doing and want to do on a computer, is now much more in demand by everyday consumers. And the hardware, is becoming much more homogeneous. They’ve caught up. Welcome to the future.

Honey, I shrunk the CPU
Moore’s Law has also caught up, to the point where the hardware is smaller, lighter, faster, and cheaper to make. On today’s hardware you can have full audio and video editing studios in the software that runs your phone. You can remotely pilot vehicles with your phone or mobile computing device, and you can easily communicate with anyone on the planet using any number of mobile technologies.

Any of the modern notebook computers have all that stuff in a very tiny package.

Home file sharing
It used to be that you had files on one computer, and you shared them with the other. Both computers had to be on to share the files. Now, with ubiquitous WiFi and home network storage appliances (basically network-aware hard drives) in your household, any computer or compatible device can access any document, video, mp3, at any time. No need to have a big Master Server.

The same goes for network-aware printers. Most manufacturers have WiFi models available that know how to play nice with your home network environment. Again, no need for a computer directly connected to a printer.

I mentioned home network storage above, but these days storage devices are dirt cheap. So much so that it’s become possible for commercial business to be built up around the concept of offering you free online storage of your documents, photos, music, whatever…for free.

And they won’t only store your files, they’ll give you free access to applications and tools to create and edit your stuff. Again, I no longer have a need for a huge drive attached to a big desktop box — all this stuff is in the cloud.

One caveat
There’s only two real reason that I can think of for needing a dedicated desktop computer these days; high-quality media creation, and gaming.

If you’re into music making, video editing, photography, art, design, anything that needs you to move masses of pixels or gigs of data around, the architecture of a desktop computer box is more suited to that than many of the notebook computers on the market. And you’re likely using the computer in a professional setting as a photographer, composer and the like.

Gaming also is a hardware resource hog, and falls into that category as many of the same computing tasks in media creation are also necessary in game creation and playing. Of course, there are exceptions — I’ve seen some very powerful (and pretty) gaming laptops.

Interesting, but not enough
But gaming isn’t enough for me to build my desktop around it, any more. Console gaming systems have edged in with comparable graphics and gameplay, on much bigger screens than could fit on my desktop.

So it looks like my next new system, likely in a year or two, won’t be a power-sucking behemoth that sits under my desk. Rather, it’ll be something small, light, can connect to desktop monitors, mice & keyboards, and the home net, yet is still portable. And I think the same holds true for most of you too. Yes, welcome to the future 🙂
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Turning science fiction into reality. How cool!

A few years back my wife introduced me to an entertaining book called Earthweb; a science fiction novel set in the near future. The book introduced to me a couple of interesting concepts that are just being realized in our daily life today — the first is that of a social currency or rating system that we’re seeing developing online in the form of crowdsourced reviews (music, movie, etc).

OLPC_CA.jpgThe second, and perhaps socially more important one became real today here in Canada — the One Laptop Per Child initiative, which looks at delivering education and technology to the world’s children who don’t have access to those resources:

One Laptop Per Child’s mission is to create educational opportunities for the world’s poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning.

Here’s how it played out in EarthWeb:

“After the Top Drop, Dorothie tricked me into learning how to use her palmtop, and I became the satlink admin for our village.” Reggie nodded. “I see.” That explained many things. Top Drop had been a part of the WebEveryWhere initiative. In parts of the world where the governments stole more than the bandits, and used even food as a tool of control, Earth Defense had bypassed them and dropped millions of palmtops from the air. Solar powered and capable of vocal as well as written communication, the palmtops did best with children, playing games with them till they learned to read, write… and eventually to do calculus.


Here in Canada (and in reality), things are a little less dramatic, but yet hope to be just as effective:

The Belinda Stronach Foundation today announced it will distribute up to 5,000 laptops to children aged six to twelve in Aboriginal communities across Canada.

The OLPC Canada initiative is modeled after the internationally successful One Laptop Per Child Program currently in place in more than 30 countries. This first of its kind program in Canada was designed in collaboration with Aboriginal students, education specialists and program experts from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), ParticipACTION, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Ekomini and Safe Kids Canada.

I’ve always promoted technology as an enabler — something to make your life easier, something to help you get things done faster or better. But only if you could afford the technology. That’s the rub.

It’s been the lack of access to the technology that’s been the barrier to make life better.  Frankly, many people in Canada can’t afford to get a computer for the household, let alone one for the children. Yet, a computer is almost essential to learning and excelling in today’s educational systems.

The One Laptop Per Child program looks like it’s taking steps remove that barrier for some children in Canada — making educational success that much easier to achieve by providing some of the resources. I hope it’s a trend and program that continues to grow. We need more smart kids to grow into smart adults and turn more science fiction into reality.

This post of is one of many I publish weekly at the Future Shop Techblog. Read more of my stuff here.