Security and the State of the Computer
The majority of people have been disenfranchised by their computer for a long time now. While they've gained capabilities and features, they've come at the cost of the computer becoming even more obtuse rather than more transparent.
Just finished reading this very in-depth examination of Microsoft's often besmirched reputation with respect to the security of Windows and Internet Explorer, and it's got me on a roll connecting some notions I've had hovering in my head for years now. (This is a warning in advance that this train of thought might ramble on a bit, and maybe across a series of postings.)
I'm a fully-converted Mac addict now, and while I do whole-heartedly enjoy the apparent immunity from all manner of virii and spyware currently the Windows masses, I would have to admit (if pressed) that it's not entirely explained by the technical superiority of the Mac OS X operating system and the UNIX heritage of its underpinnings. If Apple were to switch places with Microsoft, I'm sure we'd all be complaining about the nasty deluge of malware zombifying OS X boxes owned by unwitting or stupid users everywhere.
The problem isn't entirely caused by deficient operating systems: in part, the problem is caused by over-powered machinery placed in the hands of under-trained users.
Complexity and Security
Complexity breeds bugs and security holes. Right now, we've got general-purpose computers trying to be all things to all people. And this requires a lot of scaffolding and overhead-- an operating system like a bureaucracy, complete with programs to manage programs that manage programs, ad nauseum. Maybe it makes sense today, since we got here by gradual progression, but some day it'll seem as silly and quaint as powdered wigs or public spittoons.
General-purpose computers are inherently insecure, not because of any given operating system, but because they can do anything. That especially includes things you don't want them to do. All one has to do is say the right magic words or make the right bribe to a particular corrupt bureaucrat in the system, and he or she is in. And, once someone's in, oh the things they can do!
The Home Motor
I don't see a bright future for any brand of general-purpose PC, at least not continuing as the main consumer computing product. Ever read about the “Home Motor” offered by Sears-Roebuck back in 1918? You could find it listed in their catalog, a sort of “central processing unit” surrounded by peripherals and add-ons. I first read about this beastie in Donald A. Norman's The Invisible Computer. Do you get any sense of déjà vu here? I bet if you picked up any electronics store circular or catalog, it wouldn't be hard find a page almost identical to the one advertising Sears' Home Motor.
So-- and this is a central point of Norman's book-- someday soon the Home Computer will go the way of the Home Motor. Hell, so will the Office Computer. And the people who figure this out and do sufficiently clever things about it will get rich. Soon it will all invert and the Home Computer will explode: just as the electric motor now sits distributed at the core of a myriad special-purpose tools, so will processors be embedded inside lots of limited-purpose tools. Instead of there being a central computing hub for peripherals, we will be the hub for dozens of computer-driven tools.
To Be Continued
I'm going to post this now, to keep things in readable chunks and before my ranting wanders too far afield. But, I've got more in my head demanding to be let out-- here's hoping it's interesting enough to tell me how ill-informed I am!