Friday, October 07, 2005

Truly Personal PC's

After 25 years, it is time the personal computer evolved into something much more personal. Sure, it has gotten faster, smaller and smarter. OK, it has evolved into a communication device from a basic number cruncher, the only real advance in the PC concept, but that required the creation of the entire Internet.

I’ve lived through countless generational evolutions of CPUs, memory, bus and peripherals. There’s not a single major component of the original PC that hasn’t evolved or been replaced. But the basic concept hasn’t changed at all. It is a box, however portable, that includes all the hardware, OS, and personal data created by its user. Network Computers, NC’s (the evolution of dumb terminals) don’t store the data or software locally but rather at a central location. Wide area wireless broadband promises to breathe new life into NC’s once again but they have never been very personal and never will be.

Combination devices that compromise on features in favor of portability still struggle for acceptance and standardization but continue to grow in number and complexity. Eventually, cellular phones will combine all the features of PDAs, portable music and game machines, plus the connectivity and major computing features of a PC. Still, they are shadows of the original PC concept that hasn’t grown or evolved since the addition of the role of communications terminal.

Fortunately, advances in technology plus a few truly creative minds are poised to make the first true advances in the PC. Flash memory is now cheap enough to replace hard drives with tiny, solid-state storage that can include the entire OS, software and personal data on a handy, inexpensive, removable component. USB and other self-configuring and detecting standards make it possible to totally separate the general hardware from the OS and data component. The hardware and comm. link can belong to the host location while the OS, software, and data remain truly personalized, private, and controlled by the end user.

Like other PC’s, the hardware can vary significantly but maintain basic compatibility with standards such as the Intel instruction set, USB connection, basic chipsets and firmware to mount and boot from a removable flash drive. Knoppix, a brand of Linux, has been mounted on CD’s for years enabling it to self-configure and run on many different PC’s capable of booting from CD. An updated version could run from a flash memory device as well.

Imagine, schools, coffee shops, libraries, offices and phone booths equipped with inexpensive drive-less PC’s missing only your personal thumb drive. For a small fee where appropriate, you could have your familiar home PC experience anywhere. You could interface with local computer networks wherever you are for work or play while maintaining your very personalized software and key records with you. You would control whether everything remained on your personal data device.

Hardware enabled encryption would insure that all traffic between your drive and the PC hardware or internet was encrypted so that only your flash drive with it’s unique encryption chip could decrypt it. We setup similar (software only) encryption every time we do ecommerce over the Internet now and trust it for $1 Trillion in transactions daily and next generation CPUs from Intel and AMD are already being designed to include a unique hardware encryption chip.

The one hundred dollar PC is not far off. See this link to see what is being planned for 2007 by the MIT Media lab.
Others are setting industry standards (U3), developing and marketing software (Migo), or deploying early versions of truly personal virtual PC experiences. Flash Drives Make Any Computer Personal Ubuntu H2


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