Kindle 2, Netpads, Mira and the future of computing


A week ago when the Kindle 2 was announced, I thought it looked fantastic and succumbed to techno-lust and bought the $350 device that day, despite the fact that it's proprietary, slow and for the most part, a single use gadget. The idea of being able to just click and download thousands of books for reasonable prices got me though, and I thought about how cool it would be for my son to start reading books on it as well.

Then last night I was getting ready to sleep, and was playing Solitaire on my Nokia N810 when I started thinking about a movie I saw only a part of recently, the Mothman Prophecies. So I minimized the game, pulled up the browser and did a search on the movie, and came across the fact that it was based on a book, written in the style of In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote.

I've heard about that book, but hadn't actually ever read it. I wanted to see what that "style" was that the Wikipedia entry talked about, so I did a Google search on the title, plus ".txt" to get a filename and sure enough it had been scanned out there by someone, so I downloaded it. Then I realized I was using my second N810 (I bought it on sale the other day - I use the other one in the car as a GPS) which didn't have an eBook reader on it. So I opened up the App manager and installed FBReader and then started reading the book.

All of this, from under my covers in bed, in about 4 minutes. I read a chapter or two with the lights off (the N810 dims the screen in low-light) and then fell asleep.

I woke up this morning, wondering WTF I would need a $350 eBook device when I had such a kick-ass device already that plays games, browses the web (including full-on Flash with video for YouTube support), plays multimedia and has a great and open eBook reader. The answer is, I don't, so I canceled my Kindle order.

Web tablets - or as I envision they'll be called any day now "Netpads" - are going to revolutionize the next wave of computing. The N810 is a forerunner to the whole market - but it's admittedly geared towards the more technical folk. As soon as all those "Netbook" manufacturers - Asus, Acer, Dell, HP- realize that all they have to do is put a touch screen on their devices and get rid of the keyboard and sell it for the same price the whole category is going to take off, mark my words. (The stuff that TechCrunch is doing with their prototype is spot-on the money, IMHO.)

Microsoft had it right a few years ago with their "Mira" home tablet which was just a remote display - the problem was that it was *way* too expensive. Knock that price down to $200 or $250 and suddenly it becomes a real compelling solution: Your home or office computer attached to a fast Internet connection, with terabytes of diskspace and loads of CPU, with just the display being sent to a small, thin device for the user.

When I was a Windows desktop user (I use Ubuntu exclusively now), I used my Nokia 770 that way with Remote Desktop, and it was awesome. No complaining about the speeds of the device in your hand any more, or worrying about the ability of the browser to render pages. All that was taken care of on a full-size OS, and the smallest bit forwarded on to the portable device. It worked fantastically.

Taking it one step forward, the guys at Opera and SkyFire have already put the browser in the cloud this way, what would happen if you put the *whole OS* in the cloud that way, similar to the way Citrix systems worked, or the old "Netops" that Sun promoted? Yes, you'd have to have always-on connectivity, but that's becoming more and more a reality. It'd be a great option for many people - no worrying about file sizes, or the capabilities of your small device - everything would happen on larger machines in the cloud, and you just get the display.

What comes around, goes around and history does have a habit of repeating itself - so I can definitely see a swing of the pendulum back to the "dumb" terminals of yore, only this time instead of mainframes, you have clouds of computers, and instead of terminals you have Netpads as the clients. I can totally see it happening.

Anyways, this is the trend that I get really excited about, can you tell? Now if only I could one-click buy books for my N810 like I could for the Kindle, then I'd be *really* excited.



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