Linux 2019

No matter how often I see it, I still can't get used to people typing into tables. Bad enough that people are always mumbling to themselves -- cut cells C3-C7, paste to D3-D7 -- but the constant drumming of fingers is just annoying. And please, don't get me started on people wearing iContact lens! At least when you saw someone with smartglasses on you knew they might, or might, not be actually looking at you. With the new smartlens, you can't tell if someone's staring at you in a stoned haze, taking your photo, working on something entirely remote from the location, or -- could it be!? -- actually looking at you.

In 2019, we'll be in the post-operating system world. Linux will still be around, and so will Windows and the Mac OS, but just like today, most of them will be using Linux every day. Also just like today, when people use services like Google, Facebook and Twitter, they won't realize that they're using Linux. In the future, engineers and programmers will still be familiar with operating systems, users won't have any more awareness of Mac OS or Windows than they do today with Linux.

That's because, while Microsoft may be offering Windows 10, most people's concept of computing will have left the desktop behind. Instead of thinking about whether Ubuntu 10.10 is better than WinTen, they'll simply be using what Glenn Britt, Time Warner Cable's CEO, calls the world of the four "Anys" -- any content, any device, anytime and anyplace.

Users won't know or care about how they get their content. Gigabit Wi-Fi, WiMAX, or Long Term Evolution -- it will be all wireless broadband, all the time, and none of it will require that you be tied in with a cable to get at it.

What does that tell us? That the trend toward mobile computer devices -- smartphones, netbooks, etc. -- is going to continue, and that the traditional PC desktop will be a niche technology by 2019. By 2005, computer vendors were making more money from laptops than desktops. In the last year, more laptops were being sold than desktops.

It won't stop there though. Google, with its Linux-based Chrome OS, is pointing the way not just to making the traditional Windows desktop obsolete, but putting the whole concept of desktop-based computing in the junk pile. Google is taking a lightweight operating system, adding cloud-based applications and storage, and creating a world where any netbook or smartphone can do 95% of what most people do every day with a Windows-powered desktop.

It's not just that this kind of Internet mobile computing is going to displace older-style desktops and bring entertainment to anyone, anywhere on any device. No -- there's a whole new set of services that will be taken for granted by 2019 that no current static computing device can duplicate. It will be a combination of LBS (Location-Based Services) and AR (Augmented Reality) that will transform how we use computers.

With LBS, your applications use GPS and related technologies to determine where you are at any given moment. Armed with this information, applications can tell such things as where the nearest subway or closest steak house is. The next step, which is already being taken, is to update that information in real time. So, for example, you'll soon be able to know that your buddy is waiting for you at the coffeehouse two streets away.

LBS is already changing how we get around, and AR will take it one step further. Instead of looking at a map, you'll be able to look at the world through your smart device's camera viewer to see a virtual golden brick road to where your friend is staying. You can already use it in applications like SPRXmobile's Layar Reality Browser 3.0, which can already serve as virtual tour guides with your Android, and soon your iPhone 3Gs phones.

Today, LBS can only lock down your location within a few yards -- useful, but not ideal. To further pinpoint your location, companies are working on technologies such as Google's Moseycode, a bar-code variant that will let people label things and locations so that your device will know exactly where you are, what you're looking at, and then pull down information from the Linux-enabled Web about what you're viewing.

It's this trend that makes me think that what many people will be using for a computer in 2010 won't even be a handheld device. Instead, we'll have glasses and even contact lens to go along with our wireless headsets, These will all use the next generation of Bluetooth to hook up to a general purpose computing device that we'll have in our pocket, on a belt, or in a purse.

By the mid-2010s, this combination of technologies will have killed off special purpose devices like dedicated GPS devices and e-book readers like Amazon's Kindle. The traditional desktop will survive, but most people will be using either the mobile device I describe above or a lightweight laptop.

How is this all about Linux? Linux will be what's working in the background, just as it is now, to keep all these devices going. One difference though from now though is that Linux will be what most of these new mobile devices will be running. In this world, though, it will be Google, not Microsoft, that's the name ordinary people will know. But, "Linux?" they'll say. "What's that?"

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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