Once upon a time, a long time ago, computers where something most people never saw for real. They were as big as apartment blocks and operated and maintained by highly specialized technicians. And the use for computers was sort of a niche market. From the perspective of that time, it wasn’t really strange that Thomas J. Watson (president of IBM) said in 1943 that there would be a world market for about 5 computers.
Since then, so much has changed that it is almost mind boggling. I remember my teacher at primary school being really mad at me because I took a creditcard-sized calculator to class. Yes, they were quite new in those days. A year later or so I was the first in school having a home computer, the legendary Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Up till then, computers where only used in companies, where sometimes an entire department shared one terminal. If the system wasn’t down for maintenance.
That was the beginning. 5 years later, some people even had a PC at home, another 5 years later, most people did. And who doesn’t remember 1995, when Windows ’95 dropped like a bomb with a new graphical user interface. With a spectacular market share, it has become the de facto standard in how we interact with our computers in the past 15 years. In fact, apart from some added eye candy and barely functional visual effects, how much really has changed in that period of time?
Yes, you have a bigger harddrive, more memory and a cpu that runs circles around the once so proverbial Silicon Graphics workstations. Wireless networking adds some convenience (and often, a lot of frustration too!), and thank God for USB and HDMI. We all ran the ratrace of megahertzes, megapixels and gigaflops, up to the point were we have something on our lap that is truly magnificent in performance.
That’s an intriguing and probably arguable observation. Somehow we still do not differ much from those technicians I mentioned earlier. Installing a printer, a wireless router or even some new software is not a trivial thing for the average user. Don’t come talking to them about configuring startup services or a firewall, hooking up the printer to the new wireless router, or even worse, recovering from a system crash. Heck, people haven’t the faintest idea where their Gmail or Hotmail emails are stored!
The computer has become a commodity, we say. But although it’s cheap and ubiquitous, is it really easy to operate your computer? Yes, it can more things than you ever could imagine, but isn’t that also the weakness of this device. Every advance has his price: complexity.
And this complexity is just the thing which is going to be beyond our ‘event horizon’ in the future. Yes, it will be still there, but my prediction is that the software for managing your household commodities (good time to get rid of that 80-ies word ‘computer’) will rapidly become more mature and more user friendly. That is the next revolution to come. And also the point that we may stop bothering about processortype, connection protocol and compatibility issues. I can’t wait, really!