I like hardware ‘throwbacks’, ‘retro’ computing.
I really like old Apple hardware as it takes me back to the halcyon days of my youth, I am of course speaking of my old Performa:
A pure powerhouse… ok perhaps not but still it occupies a special place in my heart, sadly it was replaced by a PC from the now long defunct Tiny Computers. That Wikipedia entry is three lines too long in my opinion, but I am glad to see them get the recognition they deserve. Anyhow that PC was a typical beige box and although it got me into PC gaming, upgrading and the internet; it occupies no special place in my mind.
Which has gotten me to thinking about the world (see how that naturally slips into the conversation, takes skill that), old computers are big business. I mean of course recycling, lots of copper and precious metals contained in processors and motherboards. They are also a humanitarian and environmental crisis that’s happening right now, their are countless reports on the squalid conditions of those in the 3rd world who seek to reclaim our digital legacy.
We need to truly think through the implications to our environment of the next must have upgrade.
The time has long departed where we can throw away our old IT and forget about it, I think we should stop throwing it away at all.
A typical office computer will run four products:
- Mail/Calendar/Address book
- Internet Browser
- Office productivity suite
- Operating System
You may wonder why I put the operating system in that list, it consumes resources and its critical to the usage of the device. It’s also a large reason why someone might choose to upgrade their computer (add more ram, a larger hard drive) or invest in a new one (Apple’s move from PowerPC to Intel forced a migration).
What if we removed that need?
Cloud computing is well established in the Enterprise market but hasn’t made all that much of a visible dent on the consumer (I say visible because although someone might use a cloud based service they are probably unaware of that fact).
“X is running too slow, I need a faster computer”
I’ve spoken that phrase many times, as I am sure you (or someone close to you) have. This is where I think Cloud computing can really make a difference, you can have all the latest software available to you instantly with little to no lag and yet still be running an old device.
Why? Because the device used to interact is irrelevant, all it needs is a connection to the cloud. Which brings me back to the Performa, it is possible for that machine to run the latest software even though its prehistorically old.
By offloading the OS to the cloud we no longer need to be slaves to the 3-5 year upgrade cycle and we no longer have to throw old hardware away.
In short old hardware is cool, we shouldn’t discard it so easily.
The latter was true, the former distinctly not.
I’ve got an energy monitor that displays your current (badum tish) energy consumption, my normal evening power draw is circa 200-300 watts, when the surge hit it spiked to well over 1.4kw, it continued to spike in this manner for over 20 minutes. Even though all my electronic equipment is on surge protectors, I still ran to the circuit breaker to kill the power and then proceeded outside to see how it was affecting the rest of the street. The power surge eventually changed to an all out power cut and with that Honiton road was cast back to the literal dark ages. So grabbing some candles, I wondered round the house checking things out to make sure nothing was on fire, I then I smelled oh so familiar smell of burnt electrical wires and equipment. However with no power I couldn’t check to see if anything was broken, so I went to bed.
On waking the next morning I hustled downstairs and flipped the circuit breaker back on and nothing happened, no lights, nothing.
There was no power, I was cut off.
Now alongside the usual inconveniences of no kettle, hot water or being unable to cook food, I had no internet.
Big deal right? Wrong
Humans are creatures of habit as am I, before walking to work my routine is this Shower, get dressed and then Whilst making and eating breakfast (via laptop or iPod touch):
- Review twitter feeds and respond
- Read/write personal and work email s
- Check news, games and other websites
- Download podcasts & other content for the day
- View e-learning blogs for new content
- Check up on current Chess games
So by the time I walk to work I’m:
- Fully informed of current happenings in the world (useful for generating student polls),
- Have a reasonable idea of what awaits me at my desk (ensures I can hit the ground running)
- Have responded to any mission critical emails (Quality of service is important)
- Already musing about blog posts based on websites I visited that morning
In short I am a more effective employee with the internet at my disposal, I can respond to things quickly, ensuring that if something has gone wrong, by the time I arrive at work, I already know about it and can get on with sorting out.
But not on Tuesday morning (sadly I don’t have an iPhone so I had no external internet connection).
I then realised that my entire online life is based in the Cloud: Google apps, Gmail, Flkr, Twitter, Facebook etc. Nothing resides on my local machine, all the data and content is stored on some data centre and processed on a web server. My machine, be it laptop, pc or iPod only presents that data to me, nothing more. Of course I have some applications installed on my netbook but it is no where near the amount it used to be. If you think about it, you can pretty much do everything you would traditionally use a locally installed application online.
Word processing, Calendars, Spreadsheets are well served by Google apps, photo editing by Flkr, you don’t even have to have a printer in your house as you can use an online printing service that delivers direct to your door.
The only application you need to facilitate this is a web browser, nothing more.
Cloud computing is the future (although one could argue that it’s actually a return to the Mainframe and Dumb terminal relationship from the 1980’s), the device is becoming almost an irrelevance, merely a point of access that enables you to connect to your application and services held on the internet.
The cloud is the future; it’s the next logical step in the evolution of both the PC and the internet, but my experience on Tuesday morning leads me to think it can never replace traditional application access methods until internet access is universal.