In the not to distant future, you may turn on your PC to find your desktop up and running within a few seconds. The PC will be not much bigger than a book, require no fan, possibly have several processors in it made to look like one very fast processor by the operating system. It will have no DRM imposed limitations, and oh, by the way, will sell for about $100.
Now the downside of all this is that at that price point, it may still be out of range for those of us former Information Technology workers who will be serving up hamburgers or stocking the shelves at the local 7-11, for no part of this new technology will be produced in the United States.
While part of me says that all new technology is a good thing, it would also be nice to know that someday soon our Captains of Industry will wake up to the fact that our way of doing things is way over priced for what it actually does.
The harbinger of this change has just been announced in China of all places, where they don't like the idea of being dependent on US technology since they view that dependence as a "security risk". If only WE thought in those terms!
They have a chip, probably already a motherboard for it, an operating system which is a variant of Linux, and they are working with Transmeta and IBM to get the thing off the ground. But they won't need our help for long.
The chip is slow by current Intel standards, but imagine four or eight of these on a single board, with a sophisticated OS distributing tasks between them. It will be blindingly fast, run cool and quite possibly have parts of the OS burned into ROM. There is really no reason for these things to be encumbered by any of the baggage of our current PC way of thinking.
Remember the opening of Bladerunner when Harison Ford is going through what I guess is Chinatown looking for some bit of information that ultimately comes in the form of a 3D micro-dot. Or at least that is the way I remember it. A common science fiction theme seems to be a future overrun by Oriental people who happen to also be the primary purveyors of high tech. The only thing that puzzles me about these scenarios is that the heroes are white guys.
For most of the gadgets we fill our houses with we now take it for granted that it is made "over there somewhere". For a very few technology items, such as aircraft avionics (I think) we still manufacture things over here. I know of a few American electronics companies that continue in business even though most of their commercial inventory is gone. My guess is that they are busy doing other things for the government that they can't advertise.
Could it be that companies like Intel and Microsoft will join that club? Lurking in the background, turning out a few hundred American PCs with "Intel Inside!", and Microsoft will be maintaining the last existing copies of Windows 2005 with full DRM functions enabled. As very special purpose devices, the hardware and software price tags will be astronomical. Does it seem far fetched?
But when is the last time you saw a stereo system or TV set actually made in the US? (No, I don't think RCA or Zenith are any more). We just don't do that sort of thing. It drives the price up, and us consumers would rather pay less, much less than we can possibly manage to sell things for that are made entirely here.
A year ago, the cheap PCs started showing up at Walmart for $200 and the result has been a gradual grudging price war by companies like Dell and HP. Prices had to drop from the ridiculous $2000 mark. The process has been slowed by loading the machines with half-gig memories, much faster processors, dual-DVD-burner systems. Anything to justify prolonging the higher prices. But ultimately all of these things cave in to consumer demand for a "basic" system to get on the net and print out homework. An alarming number of Americans still can't burn a CD successfully through a combination of bad hardware, bad software and graphical users interfaces that pretend to take care of everything, but in reality don't. After being "burned" on one of these high end systems the smart consumer opts to just get the job done with a simpler and less expensive computer, or even to get one for each family member rather than having to share the expensive model.
And then there is this DRM (Digital Rights Management) issue. Can Microsoft, Intel, the RIAA and a few other cooperate to make sure that you can only run programs, play music or videos, and possibly do other things with their permission on a computer that you have payed for, but which behaves more like your cable TV box? They probably can. As consumers we have been very lazy about demanding some things from our vendors. Like quality. We complain constantly about our computers, our cable systems, our telephone services, but most of us don't have the willpower to resist using the devices anyway. If nothing else were to change it wouldn't surprise me to see our use of computers go the way of cable. Price goes up, quality, choice, go down.
But things ARE changing, and as all computing becomes something we take utterly for granted, something that is made "over there somewhere" we will have a lot of choices, and the most important choice will be the operating system that we use with these new cheap devices. For the Chinese people, the new machine will come preinstalled with a special version of Linux. I think I forgot to mention above that these news processors are not just Intel look-alikes, they are completely new architectures, so with Microsoft withdrawing support for almost everything but Intel processors any more they will not likely even have the option of providing a Windows version for these machines. Too bad for them. And maybe a good change for us.