For the Week of January 31, 2005
I've been banging the drum for something I call "The World of Always-On" for a few years now.
The idea is simple. Turn wireless networks into a platform for developing a new class of applications. For that to happen you need standards, you need expandability, you need equipment, and you need that equipment to be based on a robust, scalable, modular operating system.
To my surprise and delight, I recently found a product that fits the bill as an Always-On platform, the Motorola MS1000.
The MS1000 meets all the initial objectives. You can write applications for it in Linux. You can load those applications onto the device, in flash memory. The 802.11 network-out connects to a broadband connection in, so those applications are linked to the world. The company has even built peripherals for home automation and home entertainment applications, and it's open to developers.
What's lacking, however, are some really important ingredients.
- Vision - Motorola says they got it, but there is no enthusiasm for the product yet. This is a product, and the first successful product in this space will be sold as a crusade. It's as though Radio Shack had the first PC. We still needed Apple to spark the revolution.
- Marketing dollars - I don't get the impression Motorola has put enough money behind this to build a true product-line infrastructure. I haven't seen any ads for it, there's no Web site devoted to it. The thing is just sitting there, gathering dust.
- Hardware Expansion - It's nice to be able to load applications into flash memory, but a true Always-On application platform will know it's Version 1.0 and offer ample opportunities for hardware expansion, not just software applications.
- Hobbyists - The PC and Internet revolutions were both driven by a horde of hobbyists, eager to create applications that were meaningful to them. This hasn't been attempted.
For that reason I predict that Motorola will not lead the Always-On revolution.
My money is on Intel.
Intel has finally bought the idea of selling "platforms," as I recommended a year ago. (The change is no thanks to me - my work on the subject never got above the middle rungs of the corporate ladder.) When a chip is at the heart of a platform, it can sell through several generations of product, and Intel needs that, because its development cycles are long.
As an experienced platform vendor Intel also understands the requirements. You have to bring a raft of OEMs and software developers together under a unified standard and a unified vision. And most of Intel's visions these days are wireless.
Always-On remains a powerful vision, one capable of solving enormous societal problems:
- Always-On medical and home inventory applcations can let aging parents remain independent longer, and dramatically improve both the productivity of nursing home workers and the standards of care.
- Always-On outdoor applications can optimize our use of water, eliminating the waste now associated with timers.
- Always-On can do the same thing for energy use, detecting ways to save and implementing them automatically.
In the past I've defined three main application sets for Always-On. These are medical, inventory, and automation. (Motorola, so far, has only approached the last of these, and added a fourth - entertainment.) I do not by any means feel that these are the only types of applications out there.
Security applications are going to be very important. This is what could get the field jump-started in the business space. The ability to monitor, not just see, conditions in open space and bring people into the equation only when there's a true alert is a powerful Homeland Security objective, and can easily be dialed-down for the residential and small business space.
This brings us to another new subject for 2005, namely Always-On Ethics. What notice should people be given that Always-On applications are in use, if any? Without that notice, doesn't this hold the possibility of making the world a virtual prison, controlled by the operators of the computers, everyone bound to obey the laws set down by their masters?
Personally I think that's extrapolating just one vision out of many in this world, and ignoring other realities, most especially the requirement for human freedom imposed by rapid technological change. Those nations that have the most ordered liberty (both order and liberty are necessary for true freedom of action) are going to evolve more rapidly technologically, and are thus going to grow faster, become wealthier, than those that try and bind hands and minds.
As we've learned in our time freedom isn't binary. It's analog. Russia tried giving its people democracy and capitalism without order, and got nowhere. China delivered capitalism without democracy and got somewhere. How much further it gets depends entirely on its ability to increase freedom while maintaining order. The same limitations apply to America, and to every other country.
This is especially true because creative people are highly mobile. Hong Kongs can develop anywhere, all they need is a legal framework and security. That means we could have fast growth in Africa, or in Latin America. It would start from a small seed, but growing exponentially (while nearby places grow only arithmetically) it could get very big, very rich, very fast.
I'm going to be exploring all these ideas over the next few years, both in my non-fiction here and in my fiction work. I hope you can come along for the ride.
In partnership with ZDNet, I'm now helping to produce a special blog on Open Source.
I work as a freelance writer in Atlanta, and am on the development team for EgoScout, a new kind of marketplace for cellular data services.
My last non-fiction book, "The Blankenhorn Effect" won the Computer/Internet category in the 2003 Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards. Write me for a PDF copy of my latest novel, "Baptists are for Dunking."
On my Mooreslore blog I've written a new novel, "The Chinese Century." It's a story told in real-time, with real characters, but entirely fictional, dealing with the consequences of the falling dollar. I'm beginning a sequal, "American Diaspora," exploring the themes of the first book but with more fictional characters. It's a true alternate history, but set in the present day.
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Clued-in is Intel's re-organization, especially the emphasis on platforms.
Clueless is CitiCorp, which seems to think customers must pay for the "privilege" of saving CitiCorp money and raising CitiCorp profits.
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