The evolution of computing space

Now Iâ??m afraid that I havenâ??t gotten as far with Linux as Iâ??d hoped. I have it installed, even got as far as installing OpenOffice, but Iâ??m writing this on XP. However, it I realized that what got me interested in Linux was the prospect of putting it on a flash drive. Once it was on a regular hard drive, it wasnâ??t quite the grail any more, and I realized that the flash drive itself was the attraction.

I remember my early days of personal computing, and back then hard drives didnâ??t exist. So we carried floppy disks around. One disk was labeled â??dataâ??, a few more had a word processor or spreadsheet, a games disk (or two, or three) and a utilities disk. Even if weâ??d been able to leave the software on those computers, I donâ??t think we would have because the stuff was personal â?? it was our own collection, our own little computer world.

At school there were a few computers, or youâ??d go visit a friend who had a computer. We had an Apple II+. As I recall, it had a whopping 48k of ram and dual disk drives. My father mastered Visi-Calc, while I was learning more about Word Handler and Apple Basic. I miss those days because back then anyone who could even get the thing going could be called an expert, and was generally considered to be a genius by the non-users. The world of computing was fairly small and manageable. Although I do remember that for the first time, I was seeing magazine ads that were selling a product that I couldnâ??t identify â?? couldnâ??t tell what it did.

But what was neat was the transfer of software between friends. Weâ??d gather with those disks, each doing â??catalogâ?? on each otherâ??s to see what was there, and what could be copied. It was a social experience. Nowadays, you just email it to someone, or more likely just email a URL. You donâ??t really get to see how people lay out their environment like we did with those disks. Weâ??re more efficient now. But the other day at work, I saw something interesting. I left my cube to go somewhere, and two of my coworkers were chatting about UBS flash drives, and one was taking his back from the other. I joined them for a second because I was really curious. Weâ??re all on a network. We have shared drives to transfer files, as well as email. What did they need a flash drive for? I asked him what was on it. It was a public domain PDF converter. He could have just emailed a link, or sent the file via email. Instead he handed over his flash drive. It was just easier.

As Iâ??m sure is happening to a lot of you as well, my company is moving to XP in the near future. A confirmed rumor is that when this happens the new systems will be locked down very tight and we users will not have admin rights. The company, worried about illegal, pirated, and dangerous software will deny us the ability to install our own. While I firmly believe that this will die a fairly quick death, as the folks who made the policy have surely underestimated the amount of freeware and personally owned software everyone has become addicted to, itâ??s still a pain. At most hotels, or other places where there are computers for public use they too are locked down to the point of being barely intelligent web browsers.

Will this kind of thing create the next evolution of personal computing space?

Microsoft has long wanted to make all software internet-based. You wonâ??t buy it; youâ??ll subscribe to it. How do you continue to improve and support software youâ??ve already collected on? You have to sell it again.

Anyone who provides computers for use by others has major security, privacy and liability issues to deal with. If they supply the software, they have to prevent theft, and make sure theyâ??re properly licensed. If they let others supply it theyâ??re opening the door to all kinds of problems. Itâ??s not the hardware that is the problem â?? you can always secure it with lock and key. Itâ??s the software and access that creates the problem.

But suppose the solution was that we each carried our own memory, and just used the hardware to run the software we brought to the table? USB flash drives are getting more than large enough â?? a 2GB model would store all the data I need for work. It wouldnâ??t store Windows, but presumably in this environment we would have smaller options. I think there would also have to be some redistribution of functions to the network. Combine this with Microsoftâ??s net software model, and you need even less space.

Yeah, it would be nicer to carry a laptop. A laptop has more storage, and more freedom, but is also heavier, more expensive, and more fragile. I think it would be awesome to be able to carry my complete desktop environment on a key chain drive, and when I needed to walk up to a computer kiosk, plug in, reboot and do my thing. What about public use laptops â?? after theyâ??ve gotten cheap enough that restaurants and coffee bars can afford to leave a few around for public use? Even so, youâ??d still be able to carry the laptop if you wanted to.

Imagine that you can put your memory into a PDA, or a laptop, or your desktop, or a public system and in each case you get access to your environment to the best ability of the host system. But itâ??s still your data, and your environment â?? your computing space.

As solid-state memory gets smaller and cheaper is it possible that the memory, and whatâ??s on it, will become the personal possession instead of the entire computer? Seems like the days when we were carrying a box of Verbatims around.

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