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An idea ahead of its time...

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An idea ahead of its time...

Old 12-15-03, 09:50 PM
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An idea ahead of its time...

I have an idea. Follow me on this trip for a few minutes.

The 21st century will be the first time in history where Earth has more microprocessors than humans. Many average Joes in America own a computer (and maybe a second computer like a notebook), a PDA, a cellphone or pager, a digital camera, a DVD player, a TiVo, an answering machine, a sophisticated stereo system, and one or more game devices.

Sorely lacking from this picture is glue to bind together all of these electronic devices. They rarely work together, and those that do often need cables, and only trade particular kinds of software. We have a standard for exchanging data - XML - but not a lot of real uses for it. When it comes down to it, we just can't figure out how these devices should communicate.

And so, the vast majority of devices operate in their own little sphere of isolation. So you own a dozen devices that come with their own software, maintain their own files, and handle one or two tasks. Multi-device functionality (e.g., "display images from the digital camera on the PDA screen") is damn near impossible to automate. This is a shame.

Now, we also have this software called terminal services (aka Remote Desktop Connection on Windows XP, and analogous to ssh on Linux systems.) You use it to operate one machine from another. For instance, you can connect to your work computer from home. Your work computer sends your home computer an image of its desktop and an audio stream. Your home computer sends keyboard and mouse input to your work computer, which just pretends that you're sitting there at work using its keyboard and mouse. The beauty is that (a few glitches aside) it's exactly like using your work computer - only you're at home.

The huge problem is that, using terminal services, your work computer can only be your work computer. It looks and works the same, regardless of which device you use to access it. PocketPC PDAs regularly come with a terminal services client - but if you connect to a desktop, you get a HUGE desktop-sized screen that you have to scroll around, and you have to scratch out Graffiti strokes to type. Meanwhile, the video and audio streams will pretty much overwhelm your poor PocketPC's processor.

So - here's my idea.

Your home PC should offer terminal services sessions for every device you own - but the user interface should be carefully tailored to the device you're using.

What do I mean by this?

Your PDA has no software on it. Your PDA is just a generic communications device with a touch screen, a speaker, and some buttons. Its sole purpose is to connect wirelessly to your computer and run a terminal services session. But this terminal services session is specialized with your device. Upon connecting, your PDA tells your computer that it has a touchscreen, a speaker, and some buttons. Your desktop computer sends a small screen image containing a program launcher like the one for Palm or PocketPC; and it modifies the behavior of standard applications, like Word and Outlook, to fit the smaller screen size and input methods of a PDA. Result: Cheaper device (no software), easier to maintain, and seamless access to all data in one central file store. (For example, your PDA has no address book - it only uses the one on your home computer.)

Your cellphone has no software, either. It just connects wirelessly to your computer and runs a terminal services session. Anyone who wants to call you actually calls your home computer, and your home computer routes the voice communication to and from your cellphone. If you want to call or text-message someone, you just send the message to your home computer, and use the contact information stored on your home computer. Result: Same as above.

Your digital camera also doesn't hold any software. It just connects wirelessly to your computer and runs - yep - a terminal services session. All photos that you take just get sent the file store in your home computer. Result: Same as above. Your camera barely needs any memory and doesn't have to synchronize to send its photos.

Your home theater doesn't have any software. It just connects... you know the drill. All of your music, movies, and video are stored on your computer; you just access one of them through your TV. To record a show, the computer just gets the program guide from the Internet and tells the TV to stream its cable signal for channel X to the computer. Result: Same as above.

Now here's where it gets geek-cool.

Let's say you want to watch TV on your PDA. You already own a TV, and it's connected to your computer... as is your PDA. So you can just ask your computer to request a stream from your TV, do some scaling to fit your PDA screen, and stream it to your PDA. Indeed, you can access any device that you own from any other device. Your computer is the conduit that presents the requested data to your device into a useful format.

At present, you may have voicemail, email, and text messaging boxes at work, and at home, and on your cellphone or pager. Instead, whenever someone wants to send you something - text, numeric, voice, email, a fax, a file, whatever - your computer just accepts it. If it thinks it needs to get a hold of you (e.g., a chat session, or an emergency message), it just figures out how to get a hold of you and presents the data to you. And you can access this central message source from any device - a telephone, a PDA, another computer, whatever.

<HR>

This must be the future of computing. It's more efficient and more direct than the paradigm we have now. This is simple: all you need is a generic terminal services client in every device, and a much more robust terminal services server in your home computer. It's available right now, too - increasingly so, as broadband becomes steadily cheaper, faster, and more plentiful.

I'm frustrated that this hasn't happened now - that I thought of this, and not the huge Microsoft brain trust, which is busy figuring out how to cripple computers with DRM. Hopefully, someone with some insight can take us where our current technology leaders aren't.

- David Stein

Last edited by sfsdfd; 12-15-03 at 09:53 PM.
Old 12-15-03, 10:09 PM
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Isn't this the main concept behind Bluetooth technology?
Old 12-15-03, 10:19 PM
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Originally posted by Brain Stew
Isn't this the main concept behind Bluetooth technology?
No, Bluetooth is just the network component - a competitor to 802.11. It's been repurposed as a "personal area network" - connecting together peripherals together over a short range, like a wireless keyboard and mouse to a computer, or a cellphone to a PDA.

It's really just a network connection - like every other network connection, devices currently communicate basically at the "send a file" level. Everything that I described above happens at the software level. It can work over Bluetooth, but Bluetooth is nowhere near this ambitious.

It's like the difference between a postal delivery truck and the U.S. postal service.

(In network lingo, Bluetooth is just a data-link-layer connection, whereas my idea is all the way up at the session layer.)

- David Stein

Last edited by sfsdfd; 12-15-03 at 10:24 PM.
Old 12-16-03, 05:14 AM
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This idea sounds intriging. I would love a system like this, but I feel like the technological and company-specific issues would kill it before it got a chance.

1) Since most people use their cell phones/pdas/mp3 players away from wi-fi internet connections, we'd need to implement a global wireless portal. I'd envision this to be similar to a unified global cell phone network.

2) It'd be nearly impossible for cell phone/pda manufacturers/Operating System companies all to agree on a global standard. If they can't agree on a DVD standard, what's to say that they'd agree on a much more ambitious project.

3) If companies got their act together with the first 2 points, I don't think the government would ever allow a company to have this much power. Many privacy advocates would also see this as an easier way for the government to spy on individuals (look at TIPS or other new systems that are getting shot down), so that's another reason why this might not work.

All that being said, your idea is probably the most interesting idea that I've heard in a while (been studying for finals...so my head's been buried in too many stupid Business text books).

Let me know if any of my critiques or comments are way off base....or too critical.

- sharad
Old 12-16-03, 07:17 AM
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sfsdfd, your ideas seem to me like the Information Super Highway that was promised ages ago and turned into what most people call the Internet.

I see this as the future too ... now if I could only predict which comapnies to buy the relavant shares in Id be fine!

p
Old 12-16-03, 08:51 AM
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Re: An idea ahead of its time...

Originally posted by sfsdfd
It's more efficient and more direct than the paradigm we have now.
eh yes and no..... it's only more efficient if one wants everything to go past one main area, that being there home cpu. Many I know don't even want to bother to have a pda connect to the cpu.. Never mind that it has too..

plus should something go wrong on the pc all of a sudden I can do anything anymore? Not even open my pda and get the phone number of the friend I need to call on my cell phone (that also will not work now).. Sigh so I sit down to watch a film and... awwww wait, I can't do that now too being those are streamed off the cpu..

I think on some level if everything just played nice together everyone would be happy. Think the PC equal of legos.. You can buy any Lego set now and they just sort of all fit together, sure whatever a kid might build with them could be ugly, due to the strange parts but it still all "works".....

If anything I see the future going along the line of more independent gear. Rather then needed a cpu as the main brain of everything, I'm thinking everything will get so over powered that one will not even need a pc for much of the gear. Maybe as a main linking station but nothing more then that as far as software and so on.

Hum.. maybe with your idea, if you replace the home PC with a server set in some 3rd party location it would work.. Then you need not worry about it working or taking care of it. In this scenario your home PC would just be another item connecting to this main hub. Maybe these main hubs are not even for one person. Think along the lines of a monster data center just to store and hold a city's data for everyone, letting them stream that to anywhere.. Of many would NOT like that idea... too ez to track all the data.
Old 12-16-03, 09:14 AM
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Re: An idea ahead of its time...

Originally posted by sfsdfd
This must be the future of computing.
...
Hopefully, someone with some insight can take us where our current technology leaders aren't.

I'm far from convinced that this must be the future of computing, at least not in the sense that it will eliminate the devices we are already familiar with using. If it is to be though, then you may be comforted in knowing that there are companies working on much of what you described above. Most seem to be currently concerned with "near" device control, using the concept of the home being the world of devices. The centralized control system would take over management of all electronic devices in the home. The projects that I've seen generally do allow for remote access and control, though not to the degree that you are describing. To hear these people talk about it, or to read your vision above, makes it sound like a wonderful thing... and it *might* be.

The reason that I'm not convinced that it is the future is that they, and you, are simply describing a world of thin clients instead of fat, stand alone devices. It compares somewhat with the computing world where the trade-offs are considered for thin clients, fat clients, and stand alone systems. Networking has gone back and forth over the years on which implementation is "best". In many ways, the "best" is dependent on the particulars of a given situation. Here each individual would have to consider what the implications were of things like network failure/lag, central device failure, security, cost, etc. Some would almost certainly want what you've described. For others, these issues would be unacceptable.
Old 12-16-03, 10:59 AM
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Originally posted by Smangalick
Since most people use their cell phones/pdas/mp3 players away from wi-fi internet connections, we'd need to implement a global wireless portal.
I think some kind of global communications network is inevitable. Already, many cities (even Cleveland!) are discussing metropolitan-area networks (MANs) that will cover an entire city. Could be easily deployed with a few geosynchronous satellites.
Originally posted by Smangalick
It'd be nearly impossible for cell phone/pda manufacturers/Operating System companies all to agree on a global standard.
Ah, but the standard is already available, for the most part. Devices just run a terminal services client, which is a pretty standard and straightforward piece of software. You just have device info and input streams going one way, and output streams going the other way... that's really all you need.

The strength of this idea is that it's pretty generic - much like the Internet itself. Indeed, the lack of real progress in this area has been swamped by efforts to specialize the communications - e.g., the XML craze - and agreeing on specialized standards has proven impossible. This is as basic as possible, which is why it might be the way to go.
Originally posted by Smangalick
Many privacy advocates would also see this as an easier way for the government to spy on individuals (look at TIPS or other new systems that are getting shot down), so that's another reason why this might not work.
Not sure how that's possible. The devices can communicate over a public (untrusted) network using standard encryption methods, like trading 128-bit public session keys. You could even use a proxy for further obscuring transmission: i.e., instead of seeing that device X is talking to home computer Y, you only see that device X exists and is communicating with a public proxy server. Not very useful for obtaining private information.
Originally posted by Smangalick
Let me know if any of my critiques or comments are way off base....or too critical.
Hardly! Keep thinking about this; I'm eager to read everyone's thoughts.

- David Stein
Old 12-16-03, 11:12 AM
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Originally posted by sfsdfd
No, Bluetooth is just the network component - a competitor to 802.11.
- David Stein
Bluetooth was never meant to be a competitor to 802.11. Bluetooth is meant for PAN's, 802.11 is meant for LAN's/WAN's.
Old 12-16-03, 11:21 AM
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Dumb it down a bit. Will this enable me to view porn on my toaster?
Old 12-16-03, 11:24 AM
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I'm still waiting for the day when my alarm clock tells my coffee maker when I've been woken up, when my fridge adds a shopping list to my PDA todo list, and when my TV tells the lights in the room to dim when I cue up the movie.
Old 12-16-03, 11:44 AM
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i think this would be very possible (and could probably be possible today), but only in the open-source community. it'd be tough for a major electronics manufacturer to pitch a softwareless device because there'd be no good way to differentiate themselves in the market. I run programs over terminal services all the time and it makes so much sense to me, but it always seems to baffle other people even if they're generally pretty computer savvy. They see the utility of what i'm doing, but there's no connection of "oh, you mean i could do that too?" Instead, the response is always more like "oh, but you run linux, and I don't want to use linux because then I wouldn't be able to check email" or some other silly response. You could have the greatest setup ever between your PDA and your server, but most people would just look at you like you were some sort of weirdo wearing an aluminum foil hat and speaking klingon.
Old 12-16-03, 11:55 AM
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Originally posted by RoQuEr
I'm still waiting for the day when my alarm clock tells my coffee maker when I've been woken up, when my fridge adds a shopping list to my PDA todo list, and when my TV tells the lights in the room to dim when I cue up the movie.
I think these things are all in line of what sfsdfd i suggesting. Personally, I'm still waiting for the day when the all PCs would stop freezing, that all components within the PC would play nice with one another. Then we can talk about incorporating other units to the PC.
Old 12-16-03, 12:33 PM
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Originally posted by MitzEclipse
Bluetooth was never meant to be a competitor to 802.11. Bluetooth is meant for PAN's, 802.11 is meant for LAN's/WAN's.
It was originally intended to be a general-purpose, short-distance (30 feet) connection protocol. The killer app (as dumb as it sounds) was supposed to be mall kiosks that would broadcast messages, like ads and coupons, to Bluetooth devices within range.

Unfortunately, device manufacturers miserably failed to adopt wireless. So while 802.11a/b were intended primarily for computers and were making headway, Bluetooth was intended for all devices but didn't show up in any of them - complete vaporware. The 802.11 computing infrastructure subsequently lured device developers: if you already have an 802.11 network, now your PDA can tap into it.

Bluetooth seemed to die for a year or so, and then someone realized that it could be repurposed as a personal-area network. That's not a bad idea, admittedly - but it was not Bluetooth's original purpose.

- David Stein

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