Everything is mobile. That is the mantra we all face. Every angel, every VC, every IT manager, wants to know the mobile angle. Information Week’s Alexander Wolfe, like many before, has declared the desktop dead. We need to save the desktop computer.
Fresh off a briefing about Intel’s experimental Cloud on a Chip, I think we are being premature about the death of the desktop. With the coming of high-end, three-dimensional images, fully rendered avatars, voice synthesis – not to mention the unstated potential for better information management, I don’t see the desktop as dead, I see it as essential.
At the core of my thoughts is the idea of distributed computing. If the desktop does die, it will be the fault of Microsoft, Google, the open source community, and other software developers who can’t figure how to write code that takes good advantage of the distributed processing features already available in current chip architectures. One of the reasons Intel is pursuing the Cloud on a Chip is because network/cloud developers are better than client developers at taking advantage of a distributed architecture. If the traditional client programmers won’t adopt distributed computing, then bring what is working in distributed programming to hardware: let the programming of the Internet drive the future of client computing.
Save the Desktop!
I think it is a shame that software developers now force chip makers to hold back on innovation because they are so focused on maintaining the status quo that they won’t create tools to will support the next great revolution in computing: distributed computing on individual devices. I look to a day when my fast processors work at low power to deliver to me a smarter information environment in the morning than the one I left when I went to bed. Our computers waste an enormous number of cycles. I want to see software developers find a way to use those cycles for something useful to me beyond background virus checks and low-level indexing. I want computers to discover relationships within my data.
I don’t need artificial intelligence to complement my decisions, I just want a computer that makes more sense of what I’ve created, collected, and visited; more sense of the people I know and why I know them, and how my information relates to them. I think the answer to this is a distributed approach to computing, one that is not only powered by my machine’s local cycles, but one that recognizes my own personal information ecosystem, and coordinates and correlates that information as well.
My desktop will be able to do things beyond what mobile devices can do, especially as they get smaller and more energy conscious. The desktop should be the hub of my personal information space. And as a hub, it will also broker my privacy in a way cloud services can never do. I want my own private Internet that reaches into the greater Internet when it needs to. I don’t want to settle for mobile devices, no matter how powerful. I want to unleash the knowledge hidden in my 30 years of data, and let my computer build a profile of me that anticipates my needs, better organizes my information, and perhaps even proactively shares a few bits on my behalf.
Let’s not let the dirge to the desktop play loudly yet as there is still much life in the personal computer if we decide to take up the challenge of truly making them personal again by using their power to complement and augment our own mental information maps.
Of course, notebook computers, even tablets, with the right software can do all of this too, but I would argue that a desktop that is always on can better coordinate distributed processing than an intermittently used device that moves, wakes, sleeps, and moves again. So Save the Desktop!
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