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  1.  (5620.1)
    I was talking with a friend the the other night about the current processing power of computers, the relatively small list of software that requires such power, interface advancements and the deviance from the desktop platform, i.e. small 'netbooks', iPods and the like.

    I'd like to hear from the WC peeps your speculations on this or perhaps things you currently do with your computer, weird software and/or any odd interfaces you use, like touchscreens or voice recognition/dictation software. What 'geeky' stuff is out there right now you think is going to bleed over into the mass consumption market?
    • CommentAuthorE0157H7
    • CommentTimeApr 17th 2009 edited
    Cellular internet access will probably begin to be actually feasible, because carriers are starting to (albeit clumsily) introduce internal cellular modems into the wild in the form of subsidized netbooks. Hopefully the rates will be driven down within a few years and it'll be something that regular people can approach and afford.

    RISC processors - They're extremely efficient and make for amazing battery life in electronics while still maintaining PC functionality. Netbooks will probably split into two categories; full x86 machines and subcompact ARM-based machines. The ARM machines will probably be the ones with the cellular modems because that will allow carriers to install their own operating systems and locking consumers into using them.

    I hate it when "geeky" stuff gets into mass market. I much preferred it when I was a nerd technowizard and all I had to do to impress people was type with my eyes closed or use Linux.
    • CommentTimeApr 17th 2009
    Right now I have a Wacom tablet for graphics stuff (though it's not nearly big enough), a Frontier Design Group Alphatrack for controlling Protools, and that's pretty much it. And my HTC has a touchscreen. I've been toying with getting good voice recognition software for writing*, but the price is the biggest sticking point for me.

    I don't think I'll ever use a touchscreen computer for desktop applications, because a mouse-and-keyboard system is just too flexible and powerful. Unless they start making touchscreens with a visible button for every single shortcut/quick-key, it's just not going to be particularly efficient. I think, personally, the next "revolutionary" interface will be either voice-activated or thought-controlled... which will be a long way off. But I can see voice activation reaching a near-intuitive point in the relatively near future. If I can run order picking software with voice control in a warehouse, a fully-fledged desktop version can't be that far off.

    *First, yes, I know it's no longer "writing" so much as "putting ideas in a fixed meduim", but still. Second, I like typing, it's hard to beat except for the fact that I get carpal tunnel flare-ups unless I'm using an ergonomic keyboard, and I'm sort of tied to my workstation. I'd gladly throw on a wireless headset and move around a bit. Though it would probably hurt my discipline a little. Not that I have any now...
    • CommentAuthorIan_M
    • CommentTimeApr 17th 2009
    Touchscreen: Yes. I'm typing on a netbook keypad right now, and it's a pain in the ass. Using the tiny touchpad is also a pain. A touchscreen interface would be golden.

    Voice interface: No. I'm sitting in a cafe right now, and trying to control this thing by voice command would be even more ass-painery than the keyboard. Also if you think listening to someone babble on a cellphone is annoying, imaging having someone at the next table over yelling "Open file 'naked poker dogs'". Even in private I've never run into a situation where voice control would be more useful than keyboard or mouse. Maybe for interacting with robots rather than computers.

    For a variety of reasons I don't think cloud computing is going to go anywhere. Why trust a multinational corporation with your applications and data when you can just carry a couple of memory cards with you?

    Next big thing to really make an impact? Some form of flexible or expandable screen, e-ink or e-paper displays, and tablet-style computers that can be plugged into various peripherals depending on the needs of the moment. That's all in the short-term. Longer term depends on how the money shakes out during the next couple of years.
    • CommentTimeApr 17th 2009

    Well the key to voice command is setting it so it only recognizes your voice. As it does already. You spend a little time programming it to your voice, and from then on, typically, you're golden. Most of the time if you're using voice command you'll be having a headset anyway, so it doesn't really matter all that much.

    As far as a touchscreen... it's like this: you only have so much screen real estate. In order to have a full-size display and a full-size keyboard layout, you'd need something so large and unwieldy that you couldn't take it with you or it would be just as difficult to use as any other interface. Theoretically you could use a handwriting interface, but that doesn't work for everything you might want to do (key commands, etc). But, again, from an efficiency standpoint, you can't beat a keyboard, unless you feel like using menus and sub-menus and sub-sub-menus. If I can push one button (or one easy combination of buttons) and have it do exactly what I want, it's a lot easier and faster than touching the right screen, finding the right option, finding the next proper option, and then filling out a dialog box. While it works for cellphones and the like, it won't be good for anything but a novelty for real workstations until either voice command or a very complex, fast, and flexible menu/windowing system is set up. Which I think will take a while.

    I do agree with you on the "cloud" thing. And it's not even the corporate part of it, but the ease of use. Something I always wondered about was the people that use such services, yet still carry their laptops everywhere. Sure, you can use the internet to retrieve your file from any computer, but if you're taking your own computer everywhere anyway, what's the point?
    • CommentAuthorseverian
    • CommentTimeApr 17th 2009
    Maybe it's the result of Friday brain-fry, but I thought most portable devices like cellphones already used a ARM processor. I already think they are where they are going to be for quite a while; minimal OS that runs Java/flash/whatever on top. At that point it really doesn't matter as much what OS runs on it as long as you can get code onto it.

    Solid state drives will get bigger, but they certainly aren't going to swamp the market unless the price is within 2x the Gb/$CURRENCY range. They, last I looked, are still flash memory based so they have a limited write life. They will push into the portable (non-laptop) market as the primary storage device. Higher end laptops will use them in tandem with a slower & larger capacity hard drive.

    The US will still lag behind the rest of the world in broadband speed/penetration.

    Encryption will become even more mainstream. As long as the crypto people keep letting us have long & longer keys, then the only really way the recover encrypted info is through espionage or rubber-hose cryptography.

    Thought interfaces will remain as much science-fantasy as artificial intelligence until there are some rather massive breakthroughs.

    I currently use highly customized Linux systems. Almost everything I regularly do is scripted out. I also love to tinker with vintage systems, especially non-consumer machines. Nothing that odd, though I'm soon to get a Wacom tablet to go along with the two new systems I'll build & the companion to the 24" monitor I recently bought. The wildest thing I do, aside from using hercules to run a mainframe OS on a consumer-end system, is to ssh into my computers at work (running Windows) and start long runs when I wake up. That way I get two extra bits of work done for those that require physical intervention, one for each machine.

    I love the idea of a VM since it means that as long as you can pipe to the interfaces of the host machine even a 30 year old piece of software is perfectly fine. It's what I did at work with our oldest equipment controllers, and it might let me cut 3 of the 4 computers in that area out.

    Maybe the next odd thing I do should be Luddite Linux: for the steampunk in you!
    • CommentAuthorseverian
    • CommentTimeApr 17th 2009
    Part II - fscking post limits interrupting the proverbial diarrhea of the keyboard.

    Now for my off the wall guesses, heavily influenced by my choice of OS:

    Microsoft is going to have to do some major rewriting of the core code of Windows very very soon. I'm one of those people that think there is a high possibility they will eventually move to a BSDish kernel. The only way they can avoid this is to completely drop the x86 platform & go to a EMT64/Itanium route, and that has gotten much less likely as netbooks have gotten mainstream attention & uptake.

    Apple is right about on a transition time now. I've always thought they do things very right or very wrong. It's only 2-3 years later that the move to x86 is going to force out the last holdouts of the ppc platform, but with the growing reliance on being a vertical setup as that goes they go.

    Linux & the *BSD will continue. As long as IBM loves 'em, they'll have a share.

    What MS does with the version of Windows after W7 determines the much of it. If they move away from x86 to a 64bit only setup every major software vendor will have to iron out any remaining issues quickly. If MS continues to try to faceoff against Apple in the "digital lifestyle" arena they will continue to lose. If MS continues to try & nip away at the higher-ended server market, or damned near anything that isn't the core Windows OS/MS Office money train, they do it at the at the expense of that money train. The exception to this will be the XBox division, if and only if the next iteration of the consoles have a order of magnitude less hardware problems.

    The next big MS gamble will be subscription based computing. Everything will be installed via internet ala Steam or Debian's apt package system. This will also be use for hardware capacity, in the same manner that many mainframes of the dinosaur age were all the same hardware as long as they were the same family. A Field Engineer would unlock you for a faster CPU clock/more processors/more system memory as long as you paid the vendor more on your lease. Despite the rather overlord-ish implications, it might be the one thing that improves Windows security; all Windows system would have all security updates applied very quickly & without user intervention. Regardless of whether it appears in full form, MS is moving to a push-based software distribution system then a pull -based as it currently is.

    Since SSD will take over in the portable market, finding drivers/programs for hardware will become a thing of the past. Everything will reside on the device. This is not far-fetched, Sun for years has had Forth bytecode on their expansion cards. With a rather standard interface like USB & an FPGA in the device it become more a connect to host device-handshake between host controller/FPGA-FPGA tells host how to enumerate it. To borrow the MS term, Plug & Play will finally hit the mass market about 20 years later then the term. The reservation I have about this is that it could either be used to lock you completely to one OS or make it possible for a vendor to say "If your computer obeys the USB4.1 specs, you're good to go!"

    Multicore systems are here to stay for the desktop market & up. As goes the high-end server/mainframe market, so goes the consumer market 10-20 years later. This means RAID will possibly move from geek mainstream into consumer mainstream. Also I expect VM/LPAR-like functionality to start pushing into the geek market.

    Unless the USB group really sticks their collective dicks in a blender, we have our main external & wired interface for a while. That & any possible successor will be touted as the connector interface standard for something of a CAN (computing area network). You no longer really care about anything but the interfaces because core capacities can be added on the fly as well as peripherals.

    Touch interfaces will be a centerpoint of the CAN. Like the GUI hasn't 100% killed the command line, a touch enabled system will still be able to have a pointer/keyboard/text interface.
    • CommentAuthorIan_M
    • CommentTimeApr 18th 2009
    @ Rickiep00h: I want to keep the keyboard. It's the mousepad I want to get rid of. Sorry, I should have been more clear about that. A touchscreen interface would be a huge improvement over a touchpad, and it would free up space for a larger keyboard.

    It's not voice recognition that's the problem with voice interface, it's volume. Using voice recognition in public turns you into that ass, you know, the guy babbling into his headset at the pub or bookstore.

    MS does seem to be betting hard on cloud/distributed/subscription services, whatever label you want to slap on it. I don't think it's going to pay off the way they want it to. The companies I've worked for are already nervous about who really controls their data, and even the IT guys seem to be getting sick of escalating update schedules. And given the capabilities of todays portable computing devices - iPhone, netbook, or crackberry - I don't see much consumer demand for cloud systems. I could be wrong, but I've already bet real money on it so I'm pretty comfortable with the idea.
    • CommentTimeApr 18th 2009
    The HCI component that needs to change is the screen.

    I have voice activation/dictation software that works, is reliable and I rarely use (as mentioned above you can't use it in public and at home it really doesn't save much time or effort, except in long essay writing).

    Storage is silly anyhow. It is always cruising the point where storage is essentially free.

    Processors similarly, we are working hard to find ways to use up those CPU cycles, and there is still much progress to be made.

    Touchscreens and Multi-touch interfaces are a Good Thing(TM), especially when a mixture of interfaces. They can replace keyboards, drawing tablets, mixing boards, etc. However, size does become an issue.

    But the screen. We still are essentially using the same tech we used in the bloody 80s. Unlike storage, where how the data is stored as long as it is smaller, faster and uses less power is irrelevant, the screen is something that can really be improved upon. TFT, CRT, Plasma... it all is the same thing essentially, and it is time for a new paradigm pretty soon, methinks.

    a) cell phones/pdas/netbooks are tiny, there is a gap between the possible screen space and the ideal screen space for reading, drawing, etc.
    b) Just putting a bigger screen on a mobile device defeats the purpose of the miniaturization
    c) I would imagine privacy will be an issue before long, you really often dont want a fella looking over your shoulder on the plane. Or if you want to watch "girls gone wild in dubai IV" and there is a six year old sitting next to you...

    So I would expect before too long we'll have the AR (augmented reality) glasses like those microvision prototypes. Certainly, I don't think this will happen within the next few years, but 5+ on out, I'd bet money. I don't think true immersive 3D VR will be happening, simply because the movement aspect of it is too hard to get around. And lack of physical movement + immersive visual movement = vomit. But a combination of AR and large resolution HUD would make sense and is doable in a non-intrusive way.

    So, that aside, that leaves the size issue for inputs. Neural input is doable today, but is too big and funky, 5-10 years from now, possibly. We also don't know how good that will be for various applications, i.e. dictation. Anything that requires more than a simple, small gadget is probably a non-starter, so fancy controllers aren't going to happen. I would expect instead what will happen is that we will continue moving in the current direction - gently rearranging the traditional keyboard to make it more suited to a small surface area and support it with ever more clever software backend that does the thinking for us. The traditional keyboard layout will slowly evolve away and be replaced by hybrid software/small interface hardware input systems. Multitouch interfaces a la iPhone will become more elaborate. I would also expect movement gestures to become more common place (a la the Wii-mote or iPhone).

    And we will all wear jet packs. I am certain.
    • CommentTimeApr 18th 2009

    But if we're all that guy then you cease being that guy. Unless you're the loser without voice command. :-)

    I can side with you on the death of the mouse/trackpad, but I don't know how practical it will be. My mouse has some buttons and functions I do sort of like. I'm sure we'll get to full-on touchscreens eventually and people like me will have to adapt, but I still view them as being terrible inefficient.

    As far as mobile computing a la tablet-like interfaces, I can totally see that happening, and I'd probably support it. If I had a fast, powerful tablet that I could write on or interface with in some other basic way, and have the added value of a Bluetooth phone-style headset so that I didn't have to carry a seperate phone with me, I could get behind that. Unfortunately right now there seems to be no plans for manufacturers to make an actual all-in-one device. No, they're rather make you buy an iPod, and a phone, and a Kindle, and a laptop, in addition to your analog things like paper and books and a briefcase. Something that could replace all that in a convenient size (say, A4-sized) would make a killing, I would think.

    Of course, if that were to happen, the Papernet may never take off.
    • CommentTimeApr 18th 2009
    @rickiep00h -

    I think the key here is just to eliminate all the input/output - you just carry your phone (which is in a convenient phone-like factor or perhaps just an earpiece/glasses set) and walk up to any display device of any sort that you'd like to use and just pair it with the device. So when I go over to my buddy's house and want to show him a new game or whatever, I don't download it onto "his" computer - I just have him authorize my phone to his TV / display / digital paper and go from there.

    This appeals to people in a couple of ways - you still have "your" computer, with your own local cache of data, which will probably be eventually locked to your person via proximity to an RFID chip or your DNA, fingerprints or smell. You don't have to worry about all your data being up in the "cloud" if you don't wish. However, you also get all the convenience of total portability as well. By completely separating the I/O from the computing device you avoid a lot of the nerves about "cloud" computing, but you also can employ the ubiquitous e-paper scenario as well - pick up a sheet of e-paper to read your "newspaper" on it.

    We could do this today by just bluetooth-enabling every television and keyboard, but they're still too big, clunky and expensive, so I think you need the cheap/disposable e-paper to really make this appeal and work properly - but this becomes a lot easier to implement if you aren't worried about Internet-connecting the paper itself. Just have it be a dumb display.
    • CommentAuthorKosmopolit
    • CommentTimeApr 25th 2009 edited
    Supposedly EEG headsets will be hitting the market in the next few months. This is the consumer version of the set-up recently used to send a tweet.

    Prices start at $299. so expect Chinese models at below $100 by this time next year.

    Now let's link one of them up to the revised version of the Sixthsense device we discussed here a few months back.

    Then you want one of these:

    Xonix 5-in-1 Sunglasses

    April 23, 2009 OK it’s not on the Inspector Gadget scale of ingenuity, but five cool functions in one pair of sunnnies from the Xonix Watch Company still gets the gadget gene in us twitching. When you’re not simply wearing them to shield your eyes from the sun – which is one of its functions – the sports-designed sunglasses also serve as a video recorder, camera, music player and memory storage.

    The glasses can shoot up to eight hours of footage (or hold 16GB) in AVI format – more than enough to record a day out at the beach or a holiday. The camera can hold up to 160,000 images, depending on the resolution. Three resolutions – at 0.3, 1.3 and 2.0 megapixels – are available.

    The camera has a focus range of 0.3m–infinity and can be operated by remote control. The glasses also offer a “real time clock” function to track the time videos and photos are captured. A macromolecule polymer li-ion rechargeable battery provides up to 1.5 hours for video recording, four hours for shooting photos and three hours for listening to music.

    It has a standard mini USB port for upload, download and recharge, built-in USB memory storage –1GB, 2GB, 4GB, 8GB and 16GB sizes are available – and a USB 2.0 interface.

    Combine the Xonix with this.

    Z800 3Dvisor

    May 26, 2008 eMagin Corporation is using the Society for Information Display Conference and Exhibition at the Los Angeles Convention Center to showcase its latest OLED microdisplays which feature in products such as the Z800 3DVisor. The visor uses two power-efficient OLED microdisplays to provide wearers with the 3D equivalent of a 105-inch display viewed at 12 feet’s distance. It seems the longer this product is out there, the more potential applications surface - military training, graphic design, architectural modeling and... cranking up the volume on Half-Life 2 and whipping yourself into a fully immersive zombie killing frenzy.

    So basically you have an input device that lets you think instructions to your computer system; a high-res display built into a pair of sunglases; a method to record rich data about the real world and the capacity to dispaly data using the nanoprojector in the Sixthsense device.

    So in a few years we'll be getting into William Gibson territory.
    • CommentAuthorIan_M
    • CommentTimeApr 25th 2009
    So basically you have an input device that lets you think instructions to your computer system; a high-res display built into a pair of sunglases; a method to record rich data about the real world and the capacity to dispaly data using the nanoprojector in the Sixthsense device.

    And it can be operated via remote control, so my plans of world conquest (Or at least, momentary personal amusement) via flash-mob virtual zombies are one step closer to reality.
    • CommentAuthorKosmopolit
    • CommentTimeApr 25th 2009
    Yes but I'll get to see it on a virtual 150 inch screen.

    Unless I'm around the mob, in which case it'll be preserved to posterity in 260,000 pics.
    • CommentTimeApr 25th 2009 edited
    But if we're all that guy then you cease being that guy. Unless you're the loser without voice command. :-)

    I don't think voice command will ever really work. First off, everyone does have a cell phone, but most of us all do still hate "that guy" who yammers on his phone in public shared spaces. We've all been on cell phones long enough for that to have become acceptable it if ever was going to, and it hasn't. We're mostly tolerant of such verbal exhibitionism when it's obviously brief and to the point, and the person doing it seems conscious of and apologetic for the social disruption they are causing. But someone just sitting there in the cafe, going on and on? We all hate that guy. And that is what voice control as computer input would do.

    I work in a cubicle farm, and it is already distracting enough when someone in the next cube has to use the phone while I'm trying to work out a problem. If I was surrounded by everyone vocalizing, even quietly into mics, I would be completely unable to concentrate and I know that most of the people I work with would too.

    Typing is white noise. Vocalizations from human voices draw attention. We are psychologically built that way, and it isn't going to change. Voice command will be great for the blind, and will have great narrow applications (operating things in a car or other circumstances where your hands must be otherwise engaged) - but the next mass consumer PC advancement? No, I really doubt it.

    I'm also skeptical about Kosmopolit's scenario. Cool as it sounds, people have been predicting some sort of head mounted, glasses like data collection, storage & display advice for over a decade and it still isn't anywhere close to there. All previous attempts have been headache inducing, embarrassing looking borg devices. I'm sure eventually things will be miniaturized and refined to the point they all fit inside the footprint of some thick hipster frames, but even then, its glasses... it's been my experience that people will go to great lengths, including having their eyes shaved with lasers, to avoid having to wear glasses in public. Sure, sunglasses, but you don't wear those all the time.

    I predict any interface that requires the user to wear something on their actual face will fail to catch on. Again those things may have narrow utility, such as night vision goggles or other military/police/emergency responder applications, but with the general public I doubt it.

    Personally, I think the next mass consumer PC advancement has to be vastly increased battery life, or some other way to provide continuous energy to a portable device, or else there isn't much more functionally that can be done. We can all see that for maximum utility personal portable computing devices in any shape or size need to be continuously on, but nothing can hold more than a handful of hours charge under any practical use at this point.

    an iPod, and a phone, and a Kindle, and a laptop, in addition to your analog things like paper and books and a briefcase. Something that could replace all that in a convenient size (say, A4-sized) would make a killing

    Such a device would be killer, but it would also suck juice through a very wide straw. Battery limitations, as much as anything else, are currently preventing such a device convergence.

    Batteries. That's where the future will be found.
    • CommentAuthorE0157H7
    • CommentTimeApr 26th 2009
    The new Ubuntu release just blew reviewers away, and with the laughably terrible idea of Microsoft offering a super-cheap version of Windows 7 that limits users to having three windows open at once, it'll probably start taking bites out of Microsoft's market share. Cheap manufacturers of cheap notebooks will enthusiastically adopt that version of Windows 7 because of the cost, and consumers will hate it. After the initial spate of consumer unhappiness, OEMs may even adopt Ubuntu in favor if the artificially segmented Windows 7.
    • CommentAuthorIan_M
    • CommentTimeApr 30th 2009
    Behold! Microsoft's vision of tomorrow!

    Anything interesting in there? I can't tell, 'cause in order to watch Microsoft's ad they want me to install a proprietary media plug-in.

    Which tells you a lot about Microsoft's vision of tomorrow...
    • CommentTimeApr 30th 2009
    @Ian_M: I watched it in WMV, what with the link being there and all.

    In short:

    1. Everything looks pretty.
    2. Everything will be viewable and transformable using touch. How any of this data is actually entered or coded is done, apparently, by magic. Or elves.
    3. Everything will be green.
    4. People are still attached to this idea of a flexible paper digital display.
    5. Even in the future, Helvetica will follow us wherever we go.
    • CommentAuthorIan_M
    • CommentTimeApr 30th 2009
    Ah. I missed the WMV option. My first instinct to being asked to download anything from Microsoft is to back slowly out of the room...

    6. Most people will use platforms supplied by large institutions. Out of that whole production I saw maybe two minutes of people using anything like a personal computer or cellphone. And a lot of the time they were accessing institutional data.
  2.  (5620.20)
    I use a netbook primarily. What I'd like to have is remote access to my desktop AT FULL frames per second (nevermind the resolution as it will have to be scaled anyway), on any device. LogMeIn sort of does this but I want it faster.

    Sort of like cloud computing, but using my own computer.