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Sunday, September 14, 2003

  7:06 AM
More than five years ago, I got myself a USR Pilot with - I can't remember - 128 or 256k of memory. I used that for about a year, ran out of space, looked at upgrading to a newer model, but finally decided that paper was a better solution for me. Paper is infinitely expandable, as you could tell if you looked at my office. Also I can put a notepad in my back pocket and not worry about remembering to take it out before sitting down. Even so, I still find myself looking at the new Palm and PocketPC models from time to time - so colorful, faster, more memory, digital cameras built in...

I now find myself again on the geek bandwagon, holding a gadget which captures my imagination, yet is actually useful - like the Pilot when I first got it. It's a little device that looks like a key fob, smaller than the one on my key ring, that contains 256MB of solid state storage. Plug it into a USB port, and you're good to go. Cool! (It's a little too fat to use on an actual key ring. I tried; the keys won't lie flat against it. However, it takes up no room in my front pocket, so it can travel with me wherever I go.) You can get 1GB or maybe even 2GB by now, but I'm happy with 256 - by the time I outgrow it, I can probably pick up 8GB for the same price.

I knew about memory sticks (which require a special reader) but somehow I didn't become aware of these USB drives, which work pretty much everywhere, until I saw one in use. This has me thinking about how close the day is when the desktop computer as we know it is gone, replaced by a workstation-terminal providing keyboard, mouse, video, audio, and computing power, and we bring all of our personal productivity software and data with us on a smart card, or a key fob, or a memory stick, or a subdermal implant (but I hope not the latter, because then upgrades could be painful, heh).

It's kind of a nice counterpoint against the vision of a return to completely server-based computing. Sure, everything can move off the desktop, but not all of it needs to go to the server. If it's appropriate for a process or database to reside on the server, then put it there. If it's appropriate for something to run locally, put it on my keyring so it can run locally wherever I go!

We wouldn't bring our enterprise database with us, but we could bring our PGP keys / VPN certificates / client software to access those enterprise systems. We might also be able to check-out a portion of the database for offline use, with the ability to synchronize with the corporate database as needed. GroupWare like Microsoft Exchange / Outlook has already got that capability, and GIS database software like ArcSDE is going that way. (The Pilot and its descendents have, of course, had that since the beginning.)

What about laptops? How relevant will they be? Well, I guess if I'm going somewhere and I might not have secure, trusted terminal to plug into, I should bring my own. An office might keep a pool of mobile terminals that can be floated to employees as needed, rather than assigning dedicated laptops.

Perhaps the engineers will figure out a way to make me trust an arbitrary terminal so that I can just rent one on a plane or in a hotel, or plug into a cyber-cafe without worrying about theft of personal information. At the very least, they'll provide a way to partition my personal key into security zones and enable different levels of access in different situations.
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