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The computers to come

By Jean-Claude Elias - Jul 02,2015 - Last updated at Jul 02,2015

We’re one step closer to using computers where nothing at all is installed or stored. Not our data and files, not our programmes or applications and not even the main operating system (Windows, etc.) that we thought was an absolute must — an element that the computer cannot even start without.

The question of “Windows as a service” (understand running from the web, not installed on your computer) has been on the table for a while now, but Microsoft has been hinting more seriously at the possibility since early this year.

The unabated trend is towards machines that just connect you to the web where everything is there and where you pay subscriptions to have the right to use whatever software you need, and where you stored whatever digital data you own. It’s the cloud concept but pushed to the limit.

It may not happen before a few years — say three to six — and some users with extra sensitive data will keep adopting a more conservative, a more cautious approach, but for the masses this is probably the way it will be.

When it happens the change will have at least two main impacts on the world of IT and on the market; at least two that are predictable: the hard disk market and the Internet bandwidth and usage.

If computers are bound to become a mere window, a simple connection to the web, then why should we still be buying large capacity hard disks? If Windows, large programmes and data files will be on the web, then surely the smallest possible hard disk will do.

For the past 35 years disk capacity has grown continuously. From 360KB circa 1980 to 1TB today, the typical disk storage in your computer has increased about 1 billion times. Now we may start wondering if we really need all this storage space if everything is going to be kept in the cloud. A computer without data, programmes or operating system will just need a very small storage area. Processing power and memory, on the other hand, will always be required.

The other impact is one we are already experiencing today: Internet usage. In a way, and at least for the foreseeable future, it is going to follow the same trend that hard disks have followed till now; we are going to need more and more of it.

If operating systems like Windows are going to become cloud-based services then the average 4Mb typical home ADSL subscription will hardly be enough. Home and small office users are going to need Internet connection that is fast (40Mb at least), significant download/upload quota (200 to 400 MB per month), symmetrical operation (upload as fast as download), faster response time, also called “ping” time (faster than 10ms) and last but not least, steady, reliable connection. Internet uptime of 99 per cent will not be enough either, instead a figure in the range of 99.999 per cent will be more like it!

Computers without large capacity hard disk will bring at least one advantage. The change will reduce the power consumption of the system by a non-negligible amount and batteries, therefore, will last longer. Machines will also be lighter; again a big, a welcome plus.


Notwithstanding these changes, we will perhaps start to worry about one single aspect of them, which is the fact that we will be constantly paying subscriptions for these web-based services, be it monthly or yearly. “Service” will then become the key word and “computer” just an accessory.

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