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.