Thursday, May 19, 2005

The future of personal computers? (Part 1)

In the past few days at the office, there has been a few computer-related troubles. So what's new, some may wonder? Well, considering we're a bunch of very techie geeks here, the frustration is more like that of a doctor knowing that his patient has a particularly troublesome ailment that he cannot do anything about. Like migraine. In one of the cases, it turns out that a hardware component is causing the computer to reboot repeatedly. In the other case, it's plain ole' Windoze problem. The second problem is more likely (and some say, more justified) to rant about, because there are numerous alternatives to toss around.

At home, I run a Linux distribution on a plain vanilla PC. No troubles so far. No complaints of it being slow, nor viruses nor trojans nor spywares napping at its heels. Our servers at the office run Linux too, naturally. It is the workstation PCs that are giving woes, and one of the interesting ideas that have come up, is to rely less on the buggy OS, and run mini-apps or utilities on top of a platform running on virtual-machine. I refer, in this case, to the Eclipse IDE.

IBM 'donated' the Eclipse project to the open source movement, making it essentially free for anyone to use, and most importantly, to develop applications/plug-ins for it. Such is the level of community involvement that Eclipse could be used, reasonably well, for development of nearly any project in nearly any language. Some people have recently come up with non-development plug-ins that made Eclipse look like, well, a virtual computer running on top of the native OS.

Imagine this scenario: a barebone PC, running a barebone kernel, very tight and efficient ship, and Eclipse is running on top. Everything a serious user could conceivably want to do, or need to do, could be supplied by Eclipse, and a web browser of course (which can be invoked from Eclipse too, or made into an Eclipse plugin). That and good access to Google and we're ready to rock!

Critics may rightly point out that such a system appeals mostly to techies who, if they know what's good for development, would most likely be running Linux anyway. This therefore, doesn't solve the problem for the masses who use Windoze.

It seems like technology will divide the users into niches, and I have some idea what the PC for the majority of the users would look like, 5-10 years later. To be continued...

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