Windows Vista has really had me thinking lately about the future of computers.
Google, Zoho and others have developed very usable programs that work from any Internet based computer allowing anyone to access fully functional programs and all of their data from any Internet enabled computer anywhere.
USB flash drives and portable hard drives have also taken on abilities that were once only found in stand-alone computers. These drives can now run entire programs allowing you to plug them into any computer and run your programs. Once the device is unplugged all of your data goes with it.
Smartphones, like the iPhone and Blackberry, have replaced 90 percent of what most users used to need a laptop for. Email, basic web surfing, simple games and calendar management can now be done as easily on a cell phone as an expensive and bulky laptop.
I think that in the next five years computers will exist in one of three forms, and none of these forms resembles what we use today.
1. The credit card computer. The day will come when hundreds of gigabytes will fit on a chip as thin as a credit card and as small as a Tic Tac. As of this moment such a chip can hold over 30 gigabytes.
Perhaps one day we will simply have dumb terminals, computer monitors, keyboards and mice that use a simple network interface to connect to the Internet and devices such as printers, digital cameras and cell phones. These terminals will have no memory or storage abilities.
To use these computers, you will insert a small device that you carry in your wallet, or on your keyring. The dumb terminal will suddenly become your computer as it uses the programs and data from your credit card computer that is with you at all times.
2. The cell phone computer. This is a variation of the credit card computer, but it is much more practical.
The iPhone was not the first smartphone to combine computer functions with the portability of a cell phone, but it was the first smartphone to get the average user’s attention.
Devices like the Blackberry, Palm Treo and iPhone do more than the average computer was capable of seven years ago.
As memory, power and features expand in portable cell phones, would it be any surprise if we were able to carry our entire computer in such a small package?
Connect the phone into a similar dumb terminal as discussed in number 1 and you have a computer that works in the office, on the road and at home.
3. The Web 2.0 system. There is a good possibility that many computer users will be too attached to their non-portable desktop systems. There is comfort in having a solid 15lb. tower that connects all of your devices.
It is possible that personal computers may stay physically similar to what they are today for quite a while. However, the software on those systems will dramatically change.
Wireless broadband Internet will almost certainly reach most computer users in the next 10 years. This will lead to Internet based computers. These computers will have a very plain operating system and limited storage capabilities. Powerful processors and video cards may still be essential for those who do games, graphics and CAD, but all programs and data will be stored in online accounts that can be accessed and used from any computer anywhere.
The debate between Mac and PC users will disappear as the operating system will play little or no role in the function of the computer.
I would not be at all surprised if Google is the driving force behind this type of computing. Especially since they already are the driving force for this type of computing.
No matter what type of computer we use, I think that the obvious end will be that TVs will double as monitors and all computing will be portable.