Maddog sees computers everywhere

By Ashlee Vance, IDG News Service |  Tech & society, Tech & society

Microsoft Corp.'s Bill Gates says the future of computing lies with the PC, and Oracle Corp.'s Larry Ellison claims we will all move to thin clients. But while these two rivals battle over where computers will go, Jon "maddog" Hall, executive director of Linux International, said that his technology crystal ball shows that both Gates's and Ellison's predictions will come true with a twist.

Hall believes the world will move toward what he calls "ubiquitous computing" where users take advantage of all kinds of different computing devices -- some of which they hardly know are there. Speaking at the Apache Con conference held here this week, the Linux operating system evangelist painted a picture of truly pervasive computing.

"Mr. Bill who lives in Redmond says the future is the PC," Hall said of Microsoft's chairman and chief software architect. "When he says PC, he seems to be talking about something running Windows or Windows NT.

"Larry, this other guy making databases, says the future is some kind of thin client," Hall said, referring to Larry Ellison, chairman and chief executive officer at Oracle. "He thinks all of the data and all of the computing will be handled on large servers."

The problem with most PCs, Hall argues, is that they are fixed in a room and are limited for some computing purposes. While the machines will grow in power, PCs will not give all users the flexibility they want. So, Hall thinks they will serve an important role in the future but will not be the center of home computing, as Gates has proposed.

On the server front, Hall agrees that large amounts of information will be kept on hardware managed by vendors and that this will help save users time and money. However, he also thinks users will always have information they want stored on their own machine and not shared with others.

"There are things I would not trust on any computer other than my own," Hall said.

Instead, users will have a mix of computing tools from PCs and servers to high-powered handheld devices for use on the road and some even more advanced "ubiquitous" computing aids.

By linking PCs, handhelds and servers with high-tech home appliances -- like an Internet-enabled refrigerator -- users will have constant access to information which affects their lives. On the way to the grocery store, a user could receive a message from the fridge indicating which purchases need to be made and where to find goods for the lowest cost. Then, after returning home, the fridge could tell the users recipes they can make based on the food purchased.

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