Collaboration

The PC Reloaded


I dreamed last night of the death of the PC.

As the years have passed, I have seen the PC grow from obscurity to something that lives in most family rooms around the world. You can now purchase a terabyte hard drive for your personal computer and 4 GB of memory with processing power one could not have imagined 10 years ago. But times are ever changing. The PC is requiring more and more horsepower and an easier road is right in front of us – the Internet. Let me explain.

Microsoft, Apple, Google, Linux, etc. are on the verge of the next computer revolution. I believe Microsoft put out its last big operating system with Vista, and will next modularize its OS via Windows Live and the Internet. In other words, rather than spending five years building an enormous new release with endless lines of code to release in one complete package, I see Microsoft offering consumers the core slimmed-down software, and then adding or updating portions as they are released.

Google has big plans to utilize the Internet as a huge services portal. Examples include GMAIL, spreadsheets, and word processing that are all accessed from your browser. And Apple owns the portable device market and is known for their innovation. In the upcoming years, we will be seeing much more integration between our computer and the Internet.

Revolutionary personal computing options are on the horizon; and they all hinge on one simple tool: the universal high speed flash key. In fact, as I write this column, in my pocket sits a simple device that is currently capable of holding a mere 4 GB of data but its future is bright. 4 GB flash keys today – 500 GB tomorrow and beyond.

Let’s imagine what the future holds: You have a computer with multiple banks of flash key ports. With no flash drives plugged into the computer, it is simply an Internet appliance. You can browse the Internet, check email, etc. And in its new, scaled-back form (no hard drive, little memory), this personal Internet appliance – or PC – would be cheap. This could be the birth of the sub $100 computer.

But you may need more from your PC. Maybe you need a specific operating system. If so, invest in an OS flash key, pop it in your computer, and reboot. You will be prompted to load Windows, Linux, Apple, etc. – whatever operating system you have preloaded on your flash key. Once your OS is loaded you could add additional flash keys for your data or even have a RAID of flash keys with redundancy.

Another (and my preferred) option will be to load the Microsoft, Apple, Linux version of the Internet OS. Yes you heard me. An operating system that is readily available on the Internet. For example, you would simply go to a website such as ewindows.com and once you login to the website, an operating system loads similar to Windows today. When you put your USB flash key in your computer drive, you are required to enter a password, your documents and settings and data load, and you are off.

From a security perspective, your whole flash key is encrypted and is only decrypted when you enter your password. Additionally, you are also able to keep a compressed backup copy of your encrypted data on the Internet in case of theft. This will open up a whole new market to entrepreneurs who want to create online storage space for encrypted flash keys.

The portable device market can also take advantage of the flash key. Your 500 GB flash key can have smaller partitions. For example, you might make a 25 GB partition for your cell phone for music, contacts, ringtones, or a 10 GB partition for your camera or video camera. Your 500 GB flash key can meet all of your needs. Your television might have a slot for your flash key to play a movie. You may even be able to go to blockbuster.com and download a newly released movie such as Rocky XXX to your flash key and watch it on your computer, TV, IPOD instead of going to the movie theater. The possibilities are endless.

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19 comments
ezeze5000
ezeze5000

I already use an OS that boots from a flash key. I use Puppy Linux and I really like it a lot. It's small and fast, and totally loads into ram (doesn't need a hard drive). It's great for cruising the net and checking your e-mail. http://www.puppyos.com/index.html

ezeze5000
ezeze5000

I already use an OS that boots from a flash key. I use Puppy Linux and I really like it a lot. It's small and fast, and totally loads into ram (doesn't need a hard drive). It's great for cruising the net and checking your e-mail. http://www.puppyos.com/index.html

mjwx
mjwx

The OS-on-a-stick idea hits several walls, First is that you need a standardised file system in order to run multiple OS's and have them access the same physical HDD's where I would store data. Linux and Mac OS X wont run on NTFS (I know Linux can but its a giant legal grey area) and Windows (how will I play games) wont run ext3 or other *nix file systems. Next is the fact that MS like to prevent multiple OS's from being used which is kind of why we don't have a standardised FS. As well as to run Mac OS X you will need Official Authorised Mac hardware to go with your Official Authorised Mac OS-on-a-stick (iStick or something) which will probably have a proprietary port to prevent you from running it on any old Non-Apple hardware. I don't see either MS of Apple changing either of these things soon. I know that several Linux live distro's run from USB keys such as DSL (Damn Small Linux) and Knoppix (I think) run from USB keys. With a 1GB USB key around AU$30 these days having an OS-on-a-stick is affordable. I'd like to be able to go to a net cafe (or some kind of public terminal) plug in my USB stick, boot up my own OS and get to work without having to worry about viruses, spyware and other general crapware installed on the machine by whomever was here before. As to online OS's, Wont happen in the near future. The infrastructure of the net is nowhere near good enough to handle this. streaming an OS would require trunk-lines at the source that would not be financially viable with broadband prices and availability being what they are, in Australia, a good deal is, AU$50 for 8(down)/1(up) MBs ADSL broadband and a 10GB limit (AU$1300 per month for a 10MB fibre) and DSL is not available to at least 30% of the population let alone fibre. Plus with other bandwidth heavy application ideas like TV On Demand no-one will want the OS to add an overhead. As well as this, proprietary OS manufacturers continue to pack bloat into OSes, Vista is 4 GB of bloat on DVD and Mac OS X is 2 DVD's of bloat (15 GB for a fresh install). Damn Small Linux is all of 47 MB's. Certainly I think net based OSes will appear in the next 10 years (in fact they are already here http://www.gotomypc.com ) they wont take off. We are going to be using drive based OS's for at least the next 10 years. Edit: Speeling on link

NOW LEFT TR
NOW LEFT TR

HOW? Is it not just really a remote desktop application with the OS on a server on the web. Terminal Services Style as opposed to a Web App (which requires an OS to interact with)

mjwx
mjwx

1000 bee stings will kill, By sheer volume of users alone. Its light traffic having one client connecting via RDP (Terminal Services for the uninitiated), a trivial amount of bandwidth but 1000 clients are a another story all together. With a web based OS we are talking 10's of thousands of clients connected simultaneously. By this principal current infrastructure (in Australia at the least) would not be up to the task. Roughly 7 out of 10 Australian households have a PC of some description even if only 60% of those are connected to the Internet it would still not be enough bandwidth (multiple source facilities will only increase the cost) Australia per capita, is one of the better nations for internet infrastructure. Although we are being compared with places like Russia and Zimbabwe. But Australia's infrastructure is poor compared to that you will find in England (we are 10 times your size with 1/3 your population).

mjwx
mjwx

But I was talking to one of the English programmers (a Londoner if you want to know) at work yesterday about the state of broadband in this country and he was comparing it to his (England) which is why I referred to England specifically not to GB as a whole. I wasn't referring to you specifically but simply trying to give an analogy you would be able to quantify and relate to and I didn't mean any offence. Also NZ suffers from the same broadband problems as AU in this context your analogy is quiet correct, we are in the same boat - how do you like them apples - only joking :) As Dpetrak pointed out that the MP3/Movie model is distributed model and a web bases OS would need to be centralized. P.S. where is Eurma - Asinwith, I googled it and got nothing (Well, I got your TR posts but that was it).

Cactus Pete
Cactus Pete

But now stream that Video over RDP, and download the MP3s over that terminal connection. The issue is that the connection would be constantly higher, and still spike more. In today's model, the load is distributed. In a centralized webOS model, the activity ALL has to go through a central portal.

NOW LEFT TR
NOW LEFT TR

is less intensive on bandwidth than streaming a video file, downloading an MP3 or playing a game on line. Now I'm sure that millions of people do this every day and WOW, we are still alive! I am also not English & do not live in England. GB is made up of more than one country you know!!! Hell - may was well cal you a Maori, near enough is it not!!!!!!!!!!!! See it is like may saying you are from NZ, same global area - how do you like those Apples.

wallowamichael
wallowamichael

I have for many years suggested this type of scenario. I usually had my Palm Pilot to carry around with me, which held documents and an OS (Palm or otherwise). I could then take my Palm and plug it into a motherboard and use this 'computer' however I wanted. Basically the same thing the article/author proposes except I have a smart device rather than just flash. I like the idea. With some small OS (Puppy is one I use on 128M Flash) and your documents all in the same place, why not keep developing high powered motherboards, RAM, etc and just plug your data into one? Then your Palm is still useful by itself (or iPod or iContraption or whatever it is you carry with you) rather than just a dumb flash device. I like it better than just a portable flash. You could still have a web OS, and the option could be for you to plug into a high powered device, crunch your raw video, then copy the project back to your Palm. The other option would be to plug into a thin (or no processor) client just to check e-mail, browse, etc. Lots of possibilities.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Last time I check in late fall '06, just over half of U.S. users were still on dial-up. I'm sure the percentage of dial-up users in the third world is much higher.

ozi Eagle
ozi Eagle

How would M$ etc make money? By charging you for each and every time you access their OS, apps. Herb

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

The question isn't how Microsoft makes money. It's how effective a web-based OS can be if you can't afford / don't desire / don't have access to a broadband connection and have to run it over a dial-up connection.

p.j.hutchison
p.j.hutchison

Probably a yearly subscription at a relatively low rate as long as lots of people use it.

TtfnJohn
TtfnJohn

While Flash keys may be a good idea there is the issue of security to consider. After rebooting (what a Windows way of doing things!!!) would the user have to reset firewalls and proxies and all that? I can see a nightmare here the way you have it presented. Now, had you proposed a virtualization layer where your flash drive simply loads onto a virtual machine running on top of what is, in reality, a small server which security, networking and email capabilities and, therefore, instantly available without the need for a reboot then I'd agree that that is the way things will go. Some Linux distros are already drifting in that direction which is an easier concept for Linux in that it owes its very existance and its ability to improve as quickly as it has to the internet. ttfn John

elbrando
elbrando

...before it actually happens? I've heard it all before. In college ('92-'95), this was talked about a lot by folks "in the know". The internet will remove the need for big, do everything PC's. Thin clients were all the rage for a time. Broadband will finally allow for the type of data transmission needed. Etc., etc. Don't get me wrong; I think it will probably happen. This "flash key" version is even a pretty tidy way of doing so. I think I would even love it, nor would I miss my big box. There's a lot for this to be reality (I'm not talking technical stuff, more behavioral). I imagine it will take 2 or 3 generations to truly take off.

NOW LEFT TR
NOW LEFT TR

I do not like the idea of doing my personal computing over the web. The level of trust you would need to put in to using a fully online version of an OS would be beyond me. Who knows what kind of data gathering and targeted advertising would come from such a service. This kind of service is IDEAL as a cheaper access solution for the road warrior, school / college or home worker however!!! I imagine such a device in a hotel room or school computing facility...

p.j.hutchison
p.j.hutchison

If OS is on the internet, how do you get the browser up then, and get past the error: 'No operating system found. Press any key' Catch 22 really. And it looks real good if your ISP cuts you off or some idiot cuts through your telephone line, you are a bit stuck!

NOW LEFT TR
NOW LEFT TR

The deviced used is an appliance (Digital TV Box Style) - not a PC! Think you missed the point of it all. Stuck - what if the power company cuts your power????? You are stuck