27 December 2007

A technology preview of 2008

OK, it's ages since I've blogged. This is largely because I've found I have very little spare time to think about stuff, but as I've got a few days off I thought it was time I wrote another entry.

Firstly, a look back at 2007. For me personally it has been a very eventful year. Back in March, Nicolas Edward made his first appearance in the world, and he has been an absolute joy to be with, one of the most chilled out people of his age that I've met. Now that he's 9.5 months old he's into absolutely everything, holding on to furniture and standing up (but not sitting back down again, except by accident!) and putting everything you can think of into his mouth (including the muddy wheels of his pushchair!). He's also noticeably copying actions, for example clapping his hands together and hitting the floor (he's still working on patting his head with one hand while simultaneously rubbing his tummy). The other big event is that I gave up on Motorola this year and am now working for Airvana doing 3G femto-basestations. This has turned out to be a good move, as I'm in a relatively politics-free environment now and able to actually concentrate on the technology - and a lot of new technology there is for me get to grips with! I've now got hands-on experience of embedded Linux development, learnt about SMTP and learnt about some of the more esoteric aspects of the 3GPP standards. We use Debian as our desktop operating system and for development, and it works great.

So, onto my technology predictions for 2008.

1. LED lighting will become mainstream (See Here).
OK 2007 saw some big advances in LED lighting technology to the point that there are now LED-based spotlights available on the market, however these are currently very expensive and not bright enough for general use (but if the figures given are to be believed, they are efficient). I predict that 2008 will bring further improvements so that much brighter models will be available in a year's time. LED Christmas tree lights have gone mainstream this year (as any unfortunate souls trying to buy them will have discovered, the shops are full of legacy incandescent versions while LED ones have sold out). Expect to see LED spotlights bright enough to replace halogen spots available in 2008, although probably at a significant price premium. Also, expect many governments annouce the banning of incandescent lights from sale in the next couple of years, as a means of boosting the environmental point scoring of their party. Um, I mean as a means of reducing the carbon footprint of their nations.

2. Flash-based hard drives will become mainstream
We have already seen, there are a small number of these devices available already (e.g. from here) but they are currently very expensive. However their advantages over mechanical rotating disks make them very compelling for both server and laptop use. They consume a lot less power and are silent, and they are also mechanically robust. I expect within a couple of years the majority of laptops will come with flash-based drives just because they can contribute to a much improved battery life. They also seem to have higher performance than rotating disks, making them suitable for server use, and this is something that is only likely to improve. A rotating disk is limited by the speed at which it can rotate and at which the head can move to the correct position for reading, but a flash device has no such limitation. Simply by reading separate chips in parallel it's possible to increase the access speed immensely. Also, I expect to see architectural changes to computers to remove the ATA interface and the bottleneck that it represents - this is really a form of legacy bus support but which will seem increasingly irrelevant with flash drives.

3. Many more computer devices will come with GNU/Linux pre-installed
This year we have seen the One Laptop Per Child project and the Asus EEE PC, both designed with a Linux-based operating system. We have also seen Dell start shipping PCs with Ubuntu installed. I predict more and more devices to be designed specifically for Linux. Microsoft have done an excellent job of promoting Linux by releasing Vista, which is almost universally agreed to be a slow resource hog that adds nothing useful to the user. Now that people realise that there are multiple alternatives that just work so much better, expect to see many more systems (especially low cost systems) designed specifically to run with various flavours of Linux.

4. Internet video will become usable
Video over internet has been touted for a while as being the next big thing. However, people point to youtube.com as an example of this. The typical youtube experience is of watching poor quality video through a postcard-sized box on a very large display. Not exactly appealing. Also, for the majority of operating systems it won't work out of the box as it requires the proprietary flash player.
For an alternative approach, have a look at the Miro project. This is a recent discovery for me, and it is a real revelation. I can subscribe to 'channels' which download videos in the background and provide me a list of already downloaded videos that I can watch. Many of the channels provide content in HD format (which is more than I can watch on my "HD-Ready" TV currently). There are channels available from all over the world, although I would say that the system needs more videos from countries other than the USA to be a really useful general-purpose entertainment platform.
There is just one thing remaining - the widespread adoption of free, open standards for video such as Ogg Theora or Dirac for video distribution. Only when this happens will everyone, worldwide, be able to have an "out of the box" experience without having to download additional software to support it.

5. Many people will become concerned about Google's near monopoly on information retrieval and search
Well, this is something I am beginning to become concerned about. In the software world there is a sufficiently large selection of freely available software to cover virtually every possible use. However, the same cannot be said for information content. Although the Wikipedia project aiming to make a freely available online encyclopedia is well-known and very successful, similar projects to cover mapping (such as Open Street Map), earth imaging (Marble) and general information search just aren't as high profile as similar (proprietary) products provided by Google. Google's success is based on providing good products at zero cost to the user, but the information upon which they have built this remains firmly in the hands of Google and is not freely available for others to use as they like.

No comments: