May 2nd, 2004
The concept is simple; every major technology that takes hold in this country and becomes a part of our daily lives, seems at some point to branch into a business model and a home-use model. Radio telecommunications, television, motor vehicles; all started as a single product or invention. After a period of time, as the technology became more accepted and useful, there began to spring up specialized applications of that product for business and other applications for home use. Delivery trucks were not very useful to the average citizen, nor were convertables very practical for most businessmen. Television was develped with the family at home in mind, while video cameras became a necessary piece of hardware in many stores and offices. Cell phones, a personal-use offshoot of the field phone used primarily by big business and the government, has evolved even further into seperate models for both pleasure and commerce.
So it should come as no surprise that computers are approaching that same divide. Once the playthings of universities and DARPA, over half the homes in the U.S. now have, or have access to, a computer. Now our thinking has to change in how we regard this machine. In the same way I don't need a tank to drive to work, I don't really need complete office applications and server software on my laptop that I use for basic web surfing and email. In the same way, most businesses would prefer not to have instant messenger software or even web access on their workstations.
So is the next major shift in computer software going to be the expansion of affordable and practical web-based applications that can be used as needed, but don't have to be stored on my hard drive? Perhaps. But as we've seen often in this field, it's equally likely that some new concept will arise to make the seperation of business and home computers complete.
We're also going to have to rethink the GUI. The desktop that works well in the home is often useless and confusing in the workplace. How can we make the home GUI even more useful in that environment? How could we redesign it to make it practical and adaptable for the business user? Isn't it time we divorced the desktop from it's Microsoft Bob appearance and develope it into a proper access panel to the programs and files on the computer?
The truth is that the computer is still an infant technology. We're proud of having reduced a room-sized calculator down to a unit that you can hold in the palm of your hand, while we still use a GUI that hasn't evolved past the general look of Windows 95 (and even recent Linux distributions follow the same, tired "look and feel" of Windows) and require me to store huge applications on my drive that I may need twice a year.
What do you see coming down the road? Are we going to continue to follow the path layed out by the major players, or are there worthwhile sideroads we should be exploring?