TECH TALK: Tomorrow’s World: Services

Servers are the core of the new commPuting architecture in tomorrows world. It is the services which create value for the rest of the ecosystem of devices and the networks. As Atanu wrote on his blog recently: Stand-alone computing a la PCs delivering services is fine for those who can afford that luxury, but is definitely a show-stopper for those who have very little disposable income and yet can make use of those services that PCs deliver. I remind myself repeatedly that people do not want a PC — what they actually want are the services that a PC delivers. As long as we focus on the fact that it is services — and not the hardware nor the software — that matter to people, we will not end up putting the cart before the horse. So if a firm were to deliver those set of services at an affordable price, it is immaterial to the consumer whether the consumer (of those services) uses a PC or some other device.

The first service that is important is that of computing and storage. The grid needs to deliver the users desktop a dashboard from where the user can manage and interact with other services. As part of the desktop, users would be provided email clients, a productivity suite (word processor and spreadsheet), a web browser, and Instant Messaging clients. The browser makes possible access to the Web. This desktop needs to also be available via the cellphone because it is highly likely that the user will have access to both. The computer can be used to manage the desktop, while the cellphone can be used for alerts, short messages, among other things. So, the grid needs to be able to deliver an appropriately formatted virtual desktop to both network computers and cellphones, allowing users anywhere access to their data.

The second service is that of specific software applications and content relevant to the users interests. Thus, businesses could have a menu of industry-specific applications to chose from. Students would have access to a library of educational content available to them. For entertainment, there would be online games. To make this a reality, there needs to a platform on which third-party application developers and content providers can make their offerings available. Microsofts Windows API made this possible for software developers, while the open formats of the Web made it possible on the Internet.

The third service is around communications. As IP networks proliferate, voice itself will become an application over the next-generation networks. We are already seeing this happen with Skype. Communications is a fundamental need so far, voice has been for the most part a service available primarily through the telcom networks. As computing and communications converge on a common network, telephony will be a critical application on the grid.

The fourth service is built around user-generated content. We are seeing this happen through blogs. Given an easy platform to create and disseminate content, users can bring forth their creativity and experiences to create a rich interchange of ideas, words and images. This is the shift that will happen in the world of media in the coming years instead of there being only the big broadcast websites, there will be a very large number of niche sites, each catering to its own audience. This is what Chris Andersen referred to as the long tail in a recent article in Wired.

Finally, we will also see broadband content move to this platform but in an on-demand variant. TiVo has already shown what is possible by giving users the ability to time-shift television. Increasingly, that will be the way we will consume all entertainment at a time and place of our chosing. There is also an opportunity to create non-films and non-music-based content. Imagine for example if instead of just reading the recipes, they came alive with video attachments showing the actual cooking process.

Thus, tomorrows world will see various services become digital and converge on to a common delivery platform. The network computer will be the portal to a world not just of computing, but also telephony and television. It will be an on-demand world available to us on a screen which is part of a cellphone or a commPuter.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.