CNet’s Vision Series

CNet has assembled 20 minds to look ahead into the world of technology.

From an interview with Microsoft’s Rick Rashid:

The biggest change in computer usage on the horizon will be the advent of “ubiquitous” computing. Just as the interconnecting of computers to each other through the Internet changed the way people used their computers, so will the interconnecting of smart devices in the home and office change the way we think about computing in our lives. In most major metropolitan areas, you should be able to have constant connectivity from your PC, laptop, tablet, PDA, etc., to the Internet and through the Internet to any of the devices that you own.

Part of what I see happening is an integration of the user interface across all these different devices. Right now, people’s lives are very compartmentalized as far as computers are concerned–there’s me in my office, there’s me in my home, and there’s me in my car. These are all different versions of me as far as these devices are concerned. The job of all these computing devices is to really help users solve their problems and deal with the tasks they have and not to think of these as all separate experiences.

This would be part of what we’re calling “attentional UI,” which means how to manage the user’s attention and how to give the user better knowledge about what’s happening. We’re seeing it a bit in PCs where, for example, when a friend or colleague gets online and connects to instant messenger, you get a nonintrusive alert. Or with e-mail, where a small icon pops up when you have a new message.

But we’re really just starting to use the real estate on the screen in a good way. In the highly connected, highly networked world, where there is a lot of information flowing, the tendency has been to have more event-driven kinds of interfaces. We’ve done some work in research here where you can put an events window on your desktop showing different events like weather, traffic and current news, and my schedule. This is always on my screen on the side of it, and when something changes, I’ll see that and see what changes.

The point of the attentional-UI discussion is this notion that information and notices can find you wherever you are in whatever circumstance. The fact that the underlying system knows something about you means it can get information to you in a form that makes sense in the circumstances.

The “Attentional-UI” that Rashid talks about seems to me to be like a Digital Dashboard, integrated with an RSS Aggregator for collating events together, and IM-SMS for real-time notifications.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.