|Friday, Sep. 8, 2000 1:01 pm PT|
Net Prophet |Sean M. Dugan
Say goodbye to the personal computer and hello to personal dataspace
THERE'S ALWAYS A LULL before the storm, and the storm on the horizon is the post-PC era. Or, if you prefer, PC-plus. Either way, we'll soon be using a lot of different devices to access the Net and crunch numbers -- and they don't resemble the traditional PC.
The term "personal computer" conjures up hardware, which is getting to be beside the point. We're moving into an era of personal dataspace. The hardware won't be the point; it's just the conduit for accessing the data.
Sony is on the cusp of releasing its PlayStation II. It will be big. You can tell because there's the inevitable backlash of developers kvetching about the difficulty of writing for the PS2. Microsoft will try to one-up Sony with its X-box in 2001 (margin of error on Microsoft shipping dates: plus or minus two years). The X-box is a PC in console's clothing with its DVD player, hard drive, and modem. Even Linux is getting in on the action, with a company called Indrema trying to create open-source game consoles.
After five years, Transmeta is about to transform Crusoe hype into actual product. Not coincidentally, Intel is pushing for its new Xscale chip, aimed at mobile computing. Expect an ugly fight as Intel tries to crush Transmeta and protect the family jewels.
The PalmPilot's creators have enjoyed success with the low-cost Handspring. So, naturally, there's a super-cheap Palm coming out, aimed at putting one in, well, everybody's palm. Handhelds in general have been selling like hotcakes. The only thing holding them back is the manufacturing shortages.
So we're staring at an imminent explosion of devices, all with different form factors and functions. About the only thing they have in common is a processor and the capability to communicate via the Net.
This highlights the importance of creating abstract personal spaces where our data can live. No one will want to be shackled to the notion of which hard drive holds our data; we'll just want access to the data. No one will be sympathetic to systems that expect your identity to be connected to a particular device; we'll just expect that your company knows us, regardless of our devices.
This is about much more than file synchronization or having a few megs of server space that's accessible via the Web. A personal dataspace is to remote storage what the SR-71 is to the Model T. File synchronization, as it stands today, is a nightmare. It's tedious, arcane, inefficient, and counterintuitive. We need to radically advance the science of moving data around. We need to aim for everyone having a ubiquitous personal dataspace.
The goal should be nothing less than a seamless data experience. No matter what device I own, I should be able to access any and all of my data on it. That means Webphones, handhelds, game consoles, and PCs.
Devices should synchronize data in the background. You should not have to consciously move a file around. Set down your Bluetooth Webphone next to your PC and the two should synchronize. A personal dataspace should be intelligent enough to know the bandwidth and storage space of your current devices and adjust accordingly. Cache data when needed or use terminal mode when required. You should be able to interact with all of your favorite merchants without any hiccups.
Companies such as BmyPC, Desktop.com, and WebOS.com hope to create a virtual desktop that's accessible via the Web. When I met with BmyPC, I was impressed with the thought they'd given to data synchronization, but most companies are focused on application services over the Web. The real point? Data needs to be ubiquitous. You need a ubiquitous virtual home to call your own.
More than storage space. More than file sync. More than remote file storage. Personal dataspaces.
The challenge for companies will be giving up the PC mind-set and embracing the personal dataspace mind-set. How many companies are truly ready for the personalization and customer service challenges that will arise when users bounce back and forth between a variety of devices? Pretty soon, we'll find out -- one way or another.
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Send e-mail to email@example.com. Dugan is senior research editor at InfoWorld.
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