It stands to reason that everything has a lifespan, including your favorite new technological tool, that new PC or Mac on your desk. This is called product life span, and your brand new computer is most of the way through its life span toward extinction already.

“No way!” You say? “Not my brand new, very expensive PowerBook!”

The whole personal computer industry is busy following Moore’s Law. So they are bringing us faster CPUs, bigger capacity hard drives, cheaper RAM, and smaller machines. Yet everything has a logical limit. Personal computers are no exception. In a few short years there will be terahertz-processing speeds instead of gigahertz. It is possible that with the new light circuits, gates, and processors, even those amazing speeds will seem excessively slow. The good news is that real broadband will have finally arrived.

It is predicted that soon there will be the first terabyte hard drives on the market, that is, if the market wants them. (You might not want one, but your ISP will!) Perhaps we will want smaller hard drives instead. I could see the advantages of having a smaller capacity dual hard drive using platters that are as small as a dime. I really don’t want to back up a terabyte drive anyway. Would you? What would you back it up with? DVDs? Another terabyte hard drive?

There is a limit to what we as the consuming public think is fit and proper for any appliance we use. Making things ever smaller has a limit. Who wants to purchase a super advanced computer that fits on your keychain? How would you interface with it?

The interface for computers has stabilized for a few years now, hasn’t it? Keyboards are still mostly full size. Monitors still come in a small array of sizes, whether they are CRTs or flat screens. Your mouse hasn’t changed size for quite a while. These things are not likely to change in the near future either.

Therefore, having a personal computer that is the size of a deck of cards might be all right, but at least give me some Velcro so I can stick it on the side of my flat screen monitor. I would hate to lose the thing in a drawer or a trashcan somewhere.

What will most likely change in the next few years are the solid state ‘drives.’ You know the kind. Those USB dongles that you can put on your keychain. A one gigabyte memory chip is small enough now to make a key fob, and it has enough memory to carry large files between your computer at work and at home.

As these memory chips grow in capacity, they may begin to equal hard drives for both memory and cost. Solid-state devices are much more reliable and longer lasting than disk drives.

Think about it. Where is that expensive hard drive you bought a decade ago? No longer working? Such devices have a reliability limit, don’t they? The newer ones, with smaller parts and faster spinning disks are not going to be that much more reliable than the old ones we used to own.

Therefore, the ‘drive’ you have in your computer in the future will likely be solid state and have no moving parts at all. If that is the case, I think I might want to dump that stock I have in that hard drive company and invest in one that builds memory chips.

So if the personal computer you are using now will soon be obsolete, what will take its place? Think about having a few sets of keyboards and monitors at your house, but not hooked up to anything visible. Your computer of the future will probably not even be in your house, nor will it need to be. With real broadband, it will be off, someplace safe.

You already own a thousand terabyte computer right now, if you think about it. It’s called the Internet. On the Net you can do more than surf, you can store all your data. For instance, many of you already use iDisk, don’t you? Having a remote ‘hard drive’ that you can access from anywhere is a neat idea, and Apple has done well providing it for us.

In the future you can access everything you want – all your best music, movies and games on the Net. Even your daily applications could be free or at least time-shared so that you don’t even have to own them. Apple is moving this way already with their suite of free applications for your music, movies and photos, right? Even your calendar and scheduler are already on Apple’s website, if you care to use them that way.

My ISP doesn’t know it, but I already use my website to store backups and files I want access to from any location. They provide 5 gigabytes of memory for my ‘large’ website, so I make full use of the memory storage they rent to me. All I need is my handy, free FTP application to access it. That way, I can access all my work from anywhere I happen to be.

I don’t even see laptops remaining the same as they are now. A laptop with little or no internal memory, but with wireless Internet access is a much more secure device than that beautiful PowerBook you own now. If that future laptop were lost or stolen, none of your data would be lost, because it wasn’t stored there anyway.

Will you still be able to own your own super fast, high memory capacity computer? Sure. But it will probably be attached to your keychain.

If all this is true, what is Apple going to do if their computer hardware cash cow is marginalized in the future? If they are smart, they will move more and more to broad based software and services. (Yes, that probably also means Intel.) You can ask that same question of Dell, Gateway, Toshiba and the rest. What? They only build hardware? Oh well!

The way I see it, the entire computer you will need in the future is a simple and inexpensive monitor/keyboard combination device that has wideband Internet access. The only thing you will lose is that dinosaur on your desk.

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