Teching Order

The Fate of PCs & ASPs

What about the fate of our desktop companion, the PC? What goes around, comes around. "We started out with a completely centralized hosting model in the mainframe," says Ravagnani. "Essentially, over the past 25 years, we've been getting back to that model." The "computer as an island" concept is disappearing with the growth of fast and easy wireless networking. Ravagnani anticipates interchangeable generic hardware devices will be used to access data and applications from a central source. Employees will just grab a device from the pool.

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The way Kienast sees things, many businesses won't even need an office. If you think you and your mobile phone are inseparable now, wait until you're videoconferencing from the comfort of your completely wireless office in your networked home. For service businesses, employees could be based anywhere and still be seamlessly connected to you and each other. The need for business travel will decline dramatically.

We all know it's high time to put more emphasis on the "user" part of "user interface." Your keyboard and mouse will be replaced by much more natural and comfortable audio and visual interactions. Move your eyes, and sensors will track where you're looking and follow along, for example. Today's speech-recognition software only hints at the possibilities. Look at projects like IBM's BlueEyes for the latest advancements in redefined user interfaces.

They may not be as glamorous as jet packs or microchip-embedded clothing, but ASPs are the true wave of the future. Everything from customer relationship management software to accounting and data storage will move to the Net. "In the future, small companies will have access to everything they need [from] service providers," Kienast says.

Looking ahead, one intriguing technology possibility is too tempting to not mention. Wearable PCs are already here if you don't mind looking like a Borg. But companies like Xybernaut have grander plans, including smaller designs, lower costs and access to fully functional PC software. Given enough development time, they'll be a practical portable alternative.

THE TECH SET

Hop on one of the hottest innovations of the last 25 years and use the Web as your own personal time machine. These sites will take you back to the past-and send you forward into the future of technology:

Apple-History.com: Everybody's favorite fruity computer gets the "This Is Your Life" treatment at this expansive Web site. Follow the timeline or read up on a model-by-model basis.
Computer History Museum: Exactly what its name suggests. Start here to get a solid grip on the ghosts of computing past.
Intel's Future of Technology: Get a glimpse of 20 GHz processors, light-field mapping and other future technologies courtesy of Intel.
Institute for the Future: Visit the Emerging Technologies section of this site for an overview of the institute's forward-looking research.
Segway: Home of the Segway Human Transporter. You may well be buzzing to work on one of these cutting-edge scooters within the next 10 years.

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This article was originally published in the May 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Teching Order.

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