Thursday, June 02, 2005

Need for Speed

Ok, as a gadget head who will lust over the latest and greatest kit, I'm one of those who is watching what happens with the new 802.11n spec - or the "pre spec". It seems that there are again a number of pre certification devices that are out there that people will buy creating some manner of confusion for those not in the know (Business Week Online). I'm watching all this "n" news about it being the a "killer app" for communications and thinking to myself that this is great. If they get this up and running, ubiquitous computing (watch for a shameless plug here later) will be one step closer as networks will be able to saturate more locations. The next generation of Wi-Fi will be so powerful that it's expected to be capable of carrying everything from Internet phone calls and music to high-definition television streams over the airwaves without a hiccup. But then I see what is likely going to happen... "It's misleading the poor consumers," said Ken Dulaney, an analyst at the research firm Gartner Inc. "They walk into these technology emporiums and they're just snowed under by all this stuff that doesn't mean anything." The poor average Joe/Jane is going to walk into Best Buy, Future Shop or WalMart (shudder) and pick one of these pre n gadgets up just because it's "faster" and the sales person said it's better than that "other, older" gear. The thing that gets me about this is, that most of the people using this gear are going to be setting up home networks that will "surf and turf" more than anything else. This will be akin to using the Panama Canal to deliver a spot of tea. There is no way that the average user will be able to make use of what they get, but they will be sold it anyway as advertising takes the place of common sense. And all this is happening at a faster rate as it seems that there is no halting Moore's Law. I could... and actually have before deleting it... rant on about reducing enforced obsolescence, improving quality and the like but I think I'll go another way. Maybe the upside of all this consumer spending on the "greatest" is a boon for parts of society that are so far off the trailing end of technology, that they don't even show up. Poor schools here and elsewhere may benefit as the leftovers from the affluent find their way down the chain. Inner city schools may benefit from "obsolete PIII and G3"s and in a few years P4s and G5 with "only" b grade wireless. Sure, the older machines won't have all the power, but we are all working on them now and for most things, they work. It seems to me that the new machines are really just allowing for more "icing" to be put on to the proverbial cake. 64bit computing won't help write faster, but it will help those working in multimedia and as cost comes down, it will allow more people to get to use it. Take a look at digital photography. Today even the cheapest computers have the power to run the software required to make digital photography accessible and in a few year (or months) digital video may also be in the real of the "low end" machine. As the high end comes out faster, the low end also gets updated faster. But to make this ideal a reality, there needs to be a better system for recovering machines that are still useful. To leave this post on a positive note, I read the Business Week story, and it reminded me of this BBC story and in hunting for the story I found this blog entry as well. They talk about using technology to help update learning resources in Africa. 802.11n could be really useful in places like Africa where infrastructure is limited.