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Tuesday, April 19, 2005


The Future of Personal Computing - The Second Coming

The gradual evolution of the proprietary and ground breaking IBM PC to today's so called personal computer has now led to an evolutionary dead end down which we have been going for the last four years at least, driven by an industry which is maintaining itself on highly inefficient, expensive, hard to use, poorly supported collection of products requiring continual updates to keep compatible , many of which are beyond the ability of the owner to set up "beyond default" or to fix if things go wrong. Its a large and self sustaining industry overhead which needs the drastic cuts that new technology can bring to drive the next wave of mass computing.

None of the limitations and compromises of the PC are now necessary, and the available alternative would both overtake and leave the current industry in its dust very quickly once people are allowed to use it. The next generation of PCs must deliver computing services to the mass market as a consumer device at a price and with a service delivery that makes computing pervasive and accessible to all.

I expect such a device will be supplied on its own or as a freely updated part of a service provision package at a cost which allows one in every room in the house, robust and maintenance free. It will provide basic WP and access to commercial triple play services, public services via the internet/web, browsing, e-mail, and games as well as manipulate and view multimedia content. Again all these services are already there and close to volume, a new way to access them would really make them take off in a virtuous circle.

Below is my current full text version of the details, I have left out detail, if you understand it you will get it fast, if you don't trust me, its all there, now. My text needs refining, but the core points are there for development, and I have thought along each of the key statements in a lot more detail than here.

© Brian Catt 2005

The Consumer/Connected/Closed/Classroom PC is Coming or

The PC is dead, long live the CPC

The future of mass computing will not be and cannot be delivered by the multiple independent product and service supply models built on the 20 year old PC form factors and modular open architecture which still dominate today. But it will take a flanking moivement in technology and market delivery mechanisms to displace the old guard whose legacy investments are huge.

All of the required change is now doable now with the right commercial delivery model.

The components of the technologies and support services to replace the PC in the mass computing market are now being delivered to market in various point product formats .

The services and matching capability to deliver computing as a mass market service linked in to government services and triple play commercial services are reaching critical mass now. And how will the second coming occur?

The future will be with network savvy closed computing devices, which follow comsumer product design approaches and are designed to be connected to the internet , local peripheral support equipment and each other within a home or workgroup.

This means, among other things, maintenance free for the user, no need for user intervention with apps or OS. A reliable multi purpose user tool. They will have a OS and applications supporting basic local use plus network resident service support suitable for the 95 percentile masses of connected computer users, who will use the simplified applications taught in school to run services via the web and e-mail.

Devices will be available in a range of capabilities, costs and colors, built on a common core Large Scale Integration silicon computing device, but the major optional device functions and electro mechanical add ons will be separately mounted/serviced by wireless or bluetooth on a device hub, much as network devices on a LAN. This hub could be a set top box, if you were Murdoch supplying a triple play service.

So we have a kind of personal Internet consumer terminal with enough securely ring fenced local processing I/O for games, WP, Multimedia content manipulation and the other very basic 5% of MS WORD application functionality people can just about use - plus plug in readers for Excel, Power Point, etc.? If its Microsoft is supplying still........

I call it the CPC - which can be the Consumer/Connected/Closed/Classroom PC according to audience or use

PC on a stick for you Americans.

SOFTWARE: The PC is total overkill for most people. The intelligence in the applications design for consumer services is actually just application driven I/O on a remote server. This is the dominant way computers are used in the consumer market - as simple I/O terminals using someone else's intelligence. Put another way, for service provision intelligence is in the service providers browser interfaces.

Significant creative functionality is not needed in the computer itself, apart from Education and simple WP. Homework and education is increasingly browsing for information, simple essays or multi-choice questions based on reading and class work - Education for Dummies doable on the web via forms again. etc. Essays are the simple WP application.

More IS NOT NEEDED. Most people can't set tabs and margins in WORD. Case closed. Again I bet this level of skill is the 95 percentile. Mail Merge? Floating text boxes? Index by Heading Style?...forget it.

And WHY do we need to upgrade such basic stuff continuously, its just age old market churning for no real advantage much of the time.

HARDWARE: Overweight stand alone Wintel PCs supplied by multiple hardware vendors with differing BIOS, a quite separate OS and supporting several applications software vendors and peripheral suppliers all writing their own drivers are a clear maintenance, support and security nightmare.

If you started out to produce a consumer computing device with an MRD like this you would be laughed out of the room, country anf industry. The "modern" desktop PC is a design for DIY hobbyists, which only endures because the hobbysists are now controlling the industry and getting rich.

The press and analysts don't understand enough to see the mass computing wood for the Wintel trees.

Its time to lock computing down to an efficient open standard which can be burnt into silicon and deployed in various packaging - and put the current PC genie back to the power users and techies who foisted it on us as a great idea.

Wintel PC functionality is for power users who perform significant creative work, mostly in business and academia. They were never appropriate for a mass market, period. The problems they create are out of all proportion to their functionality compared to any mass market device such as your moby, TV, Video, Music Centre - right?

No reason why PCs should not contiinue - in the 5% of the market where they started and are actually needed.

This does NOT include office automation, which is also basic WP, browsing, e-mail and form filling process most of the time by the same consumers who use the new model when they get home.

So In fact a simple CPC would also work fine for the average office work - with much lower equipment, training and support costs. Creative work is generally for power users only.

The only reason PCs survive is pervasive installation, FUD and no alternative with the muscle to dislodge them. So what will it take?

I think the emergence of broadband via fixed and mobile devices, multiple closed or increasingly network managed consumer communication and computing devices, processors such as ARM and OS such as Symbian and Linux means the PC architectural model is no longer required and can be replaced as I describe from these new technologies - as long as if it supports legacy PC look and feel and basic apps for migration purposes.

The new computing devices and their markets are providing a supportive shift in computing creating the culture for the acceptance of alternatives to the legacy Wintel PC. (PDA, Smartphone, Xbox(with VoIP), PS2 etc.)

I'll call this new design concept the CPC (Consumer, Connected/Closed Personal Computer). 3CPC?

In my CPC model the huge problems of usability, space, wasted time, maintenance and update are massively reduced by the simplicity of design, low power, no mechanical parts and any necessary software maintenance provided by service providers when the device is connected - or at a service centre - much as the dreaded XP2 upgrade only much smaller, faster and totally transparent to the user

Small incremental network upgrades will keep everything clean and also prevent the spread of any bug clever enough to get around a closed and locked down system - its will also make everything on the net much more secure as everyone will be patched to current standards and given a mandatory patch to serious stuff next time they log in and before they connect to a server or the net, or immediately if always connected, as in Mobile phone. Encryption can be standard and in hardware (much faster and more powerful).

Resistance is futile, you will be updated (in the service charge of course)

Such devices will be available to consumers from next generation service providers as part of service rental, or from Dixons et al. Concept is a range of connectivity devices on the model of the phone from basic access and passive response style use to full function creative where next step IS a PC.

Price will be low enough to have several around the house, the more highly featured capable of Triple Play delivery to work with evolving triple play service provision, some point devices

Connectivity will be charged per service, browsing, e-mail, games - porn and gambling by browsing plus subscription, etc., etc.

We already have the prototype technology in Xbox (online and with VoIP built in), PS2, Smartphones/connected PDAs, iPod as the consumer extended storage tool sort of and 10% of the UK population now has broadband - what % of residences is that?

This would be an efficient computing device with no need for high level editable code or APIs, VB support , etc. It would have hard coded GUI/OS interaction, Mac/Symbian style, and single standard device drivers embedded - so a much smaller OS and V90 or 2.5G should be able to handle regular updates as well.

WHEN? I have been waiting since 1991 for these pieces to fall into place. It just takes Jobs to get with Sony and one visionary service provider and persuade a government (or the EC) to run a program for education or tax returns, etc. - follow the money and we're away to the races.

WHO DELIVERS? He who bills the customer owns the customer. For me the obvious suppliers are telcos and similar service providers such as Pay-to-View TV companies, who already supply equipment and connectivity on a pay to use plus rental basis, and own customers at the granular customer support, billing/OSS level in a way the computer industry's box moving service averse channel is just not set up for. In particular the winners in the emerging Triple Play service provision.

SUPPORT: No debate, consumer IT industry support is only by e-mail , useless FAQ libraries or mostly incompetent retailers. The problem always with another vendor's piece of the pie, at best handled by a call centre or its web e-quivalent - just made a new word up :-) - which gives a detailed and useless answer. etc.. Computing needs to be an integrated service which hides all the detail from the user and is useable by fully penetrate the mass market, as was the automobile with the electric starter and automatic gearbox - or the South with elevators and airconditioning.

My suggested model is a relatively simple to deliver overlay on what Telcos and content providers already do.

If Telcos don't get it maybe an IT service provider can do it on a telco backbone.

Actually this is really Minitel Mk2, so maybe the French would be a good bet - they get strategic infrastructure and don't expect a return inside 12 months.

WITHER WINTEL? This natural evolution also means the end of Wintel as we know it for mass computing - if there ever really was mass computing.

I can't believe Bill Gates can't see this (massive strategic threat unless its his Windows Online OS in the CPC, which is I guess why he has a whole group tracking Symbian, ARM, consumer devices, but a group anchored to the low water mark by millstone Wintel PC culture and processes will find it hard to keep up - apart from the Xbox business which is a strategic consumer brand and does get it - they already have voice communication with the enemy enabled for games which doubles as private global VoIP VPN service.

There is a market for "Windows Online" in this scenario, an OEM boxless managed CPC OS from MS licensed as part of a service agreement through the service providers, burnt into the CPC and updated on a ¢ per hit basis from the service provider as required. So a service provider delivery channel, enduring licensing, which is what Bill seems to want now anyway - pure IP licensing model.

And Intel could make the LSI chips, but so can RISC chip makers like ARM or Motorola.

The box will be at least dust and splash proof, drop proof and rugged.

No hard drive of course, if you can't write an OS and the basic apps to store on 1 or 2 GB of EAROM/PROM and execute in a lot less RAM you don't get this concept.

Nothing mechanical in the core technology except keys.

Minimal power requirements.

All mechanical and power consuming peripherals are connected to a connected hub option - this handles printing and multimedia I/O -use your iPod for data and multimedia along with DVD/other optical and memory card readers - the hub can also be your cable set top/Sky Box from Uncle Rupert.

This approach is about physical resilience and weight (lower opower/smaller battery also) and thus a low basic cost point - in volume production weight is proportional to cost, manufacturers weigh the component materials to get to volume hard disk costs.

In fact I'd start out with a target cost in volume of $100 and design to beat that for a start. Retail $199 but launch with the options bundled until volume gets going and competition enters, etc.?.

Anyway, that's the next ten years in a blog.

Anyone want me to help build this for them?


Brian Catt
for EuroChannel


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