Some Speculation about the Future of Computing

"The Future of Computing" was a nodeshell. It's probably some kind of "visionary" book written by a tech guru filled with extravagant and completely wrong predictions. Not that I'm saying that my predictions and suggestions are necessarily right, though I haven't just dreamed this up.


Computing Power will Continue to Increase
It is rather probable that the speed at which computers go will yet increase greatly over at least the next decade. Although we are reaching the limits of conventional circuit design, new approaches to building even faster computers are being developed. One of them is molecular computing, where the calculations would be done by some kind of chemical engine, for example by DNA. Another is quantum computing, which promises virtually unlimited processing power (especially for certain applications).

Therefore I think it is rather safe to say that we can reasonably expect the speed at which computers run to increase many times over within the next few years at least. But now comes the main question of this writeup: what do we need it for?


Certain Applications do not need more Speed
There are some things you can do on your computer that are just fine with the amount of processing power currently available for reasonable prices. These are: word processing, creating presentations, page layout, basic photo editing, small databases and spreadsheets. (/msg me if you can think of any others)

All of these applications will not really benefit from faster computers.


Others Do
Of course, that is not the case with all applications of computers. 3D modelling, large databases, heavy image processing, video editing, scientific applications and computer games would all greatly profit from computers with more performance.

But these do not concern me at the moment.


Inefficient Software
As the speed of affordable computers increases there is a point where it becomes quite pointless to buy a faster computer when you're only doing things from the first list. After all, you won't type any faster if you have a faster computer.

Since quite a large proportion of computers are used for office purposes, which all fall within the first category, there is actually no real need to buy faster computers for business anymore. That is catastrophic to hardware manufacturers who of course depend on being able to sell better computers to people who already have one. Where would they be if people just decided that the computers they had were "just fine, thank you very much"?

The creators of software have a somewhat similar problem in that they too must be able to sell newer versions of their software to people who already have an older version. Thus they must give the user some reason to upgrade. The normal way to do this is by adding new useful features, but there are only so many useful features you can add to a word processor or a spreadsheet program. Therefore they have to resort to methods less beneficial to the end user in order to achieve their aims. One very effective method to do this is to change the format of the files created by their applications for every new version, so that older versions are unable to read files created by a newer version of the program. The result of this is that everybody has to upgrade to the newest version of the program as soon as it is available because else they will not be able to read the files from others who have upgraded already. This is known as "forcing the upgrade path", and Microsoft is king there.

And since these newer versions of software always require better computers to run, the needs of the hardware manufacturers are served as well - people need to buy faster machines in order to run the new versions of the applications.

The really evil thing about this is that the actual improvement to the applications is negligible, so the end users are paying a lot of money just not to fall behind without actually benefiting from their expensive purchases in any way.

This tendency is likely to improve in the future as the speed of computers completely surpasses the requirements of office applications. Only that now it doesn't, as the applications become ever less efficient: I mean, several dozen megabytes of RAM for a word processor? I remember a time where one could write quite comfortably on a computer with four megs of total RAM. And now just imagine the future if it goes on like that: MS Word 2011, System Requirements: 2 gigabytes of RAM.


Work Computers
So eventually the performance of personal computers will be so great that a special work-only PC could be produced at the fraction of the cost of a "normal" computer. While it would be incapable of playing the newest games and doing decent video editing, it would be perfectly fine for office work. And since the constraints of computing power would be no longer so severe, one could concentrate on making the computer stable and easy to use and troubleshoot.

Doing so would result into a split of available computer models into high-end computers for games and graphics, and low-end computers for work.

But there is just one little problem with creating such computers: the newest version of MS Word would not run on it. And since Word is pretty much the standard way of exchanging text data this computer would have enormous compatibility problems.

And you can be sure it will be kept that way, as it would greatly cut into the profits of major computer companies. Right now, those companies rely on being able to sell a great amount of hardware and software. If buying a new computer every few years was no longer necessary, then those companies would have to shrink greatly because of decreased demand. Still, the current situation cannot go on forever. Eventually, the computer industry will have to adapt to a slower, more stable paradigm. The computer world cannot go on quickly and constantly changing for the next hundred years! Keep in mind that the personal computer is still a very recent invention compared to, for example, the automobile.



Zarkonnen is completely happy with his G4/450 and has no intention of upgrading anytime soon. And in case you have not noticed: he does not really like Microsoft Corp. all that much.

Just a note: this isn't an Apple commercial. Macintosh computers are too powerful and far too expensive to serve as the "Work Computers" described above. Anyway, Apple is guilty of producing hideously inefficient applications as well.

And no, cheap Unix/Linux boxes won't work either because they're not user friendly enough for normal office use. (Hard to set up and difficult to maintenance.)


Gartogg: What you have detailed is exactly what I mean by "Work Computer".

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