Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Always connected or always available?

Maybe I'm just getting old… There was a time when I would jump all over any new technology with the starry-eyed optimism of any youth, or at least any young geek, thinking that this technology was the wave of the future and anyone who couldn't see that was just ignorant. (Oh wait, that attitude is what gave us the Dot-Com bubble, wasn't it? And the subsequent Dot-Com bust…)

But these days, more and more, I get the feeling that the world is full of starry-eyed youths who can't really see the future to save their lives, just the latest buzz-words and hype. I, however, in my maturity and wisdom see things as they really are…

Same hubris, opposite perspective I suppose.

Anyway, my cantankerous musings today stem from thinking about the issues of thin-client computer, desktop virtualization, software as a service, the "death of the desktop" and a number of other buzzwords that are zipping around the tech media today like flies on road kill in mid-July.

In their proper place, most of these technologies have huge benefits in terms of cutting costs (especially support costs), providing quality service, improving reliability, etc. But to hear the pundits pontificating, that proper place sounds like it is everywhere and for everyone and the whole world is going to come around soon.

I think the main thing that bothers me about these technologies, what makes me leery of them even when I can see real benefits to them, is that they all presume a constantly connected system. Even in this day of hotspots at every coffee shop, this is simply not the reality for most of us. Or at least not for those of us who really can and do use our computers anywhere. Sure, if I have to open up my computer and set it on a table before I can use it chances are I will be doing that in some place that will have a wired or wireless connection. But with a Tablet that isn't the reality any more. I use mine in the grocery store for shopping lists. I use it in the car (usually only when I'm not driving but I do keep directions on it), I use it for meetings at other people's houses, I use it in church. In short, I really do use it everywhere, and many of those places have no connectivity. And no connectivity means no data when that data is anywhere but on your computer. It will also mean no applications when those are provided by Google and hosted on Google's servers.

Now maybe that is just because I live and work in the rural northeast, but I doubt it. I think the reality even in major cities is that connectivity really isn't ubiquitous, it is just ubiquitous in most of the places where people actually sit down to compute. And I don't think that (always sitting down to compute) is the future. The future rightly belongs to those who will compute wherever and in whatever position they want.

Then you have airplanes, boats, cars, locations with secured wireless and all sorts of other places where a connection can't or won't happen. And laws that make it illegal to sponge off an open wireless connection. (There goes my ability to keep in touch with family while on the road!)

And don't even get me started on the reliability of Internet connectivity. We just went through four days of no connection at home owing in part to a leaky circuit box and wet weather and in part to a Comcast support screw up. Four days of no access to my data and apps? No way!

And especially don't get me started on the whole security angle of all my data stored on someone else's server with the data of 1,000,000 other people making one very fat, juicy target for someone hell-bent on identity theft or corporate espionage or just plain mischief. Think that is far-fetched? Then you're not reading the papers. They regularly tell us about the very large number of big data bases that are attacked and cracked just to get the personal information of a significant number of people. And those are just the ones that are acknowledged.

OK, I feel somewhat better getting that off my chest. Maybe I'll head on out to the field by the stream out on the back part of campus, relax, and read some of the books I've got on my Tablet. And because they are there and not somewhere else, … I can.