A recent New York Times article quotes the CEOs of some top PC makers wondering whether there’s an audience for the high-speed processors that have recently hit the market. Michael Dell suggests that, “there haven’t been a lot of great reasons to buy a new computer”. Jeff Weitzen, CEO of Gateway wonders, “Do you really need a gigahertz processor? We’re finding people don’t need that.”
It’s not quite the famously short-sighted view offered by Digital Equipment Corp.’s Ken Olson, who in 1977 offered the jewel, “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” Or even Bill Gates’ 1981 remarks that, “640 kilobytes ought to be enough for anybody.” But it’s close.
I understand that Dell and Weitzen’s remarks were reflections upon the recent slump in sales of their high-end products. But it concerns me, just the same, that today’s technology leaders appear to be both ignoring the history of their own industry, and at the same time, so limited in their imaginations.
Computers are, in some respects, like closets. Expand their capacity, and somebody comes along with something that fills ’em up. In the early 80’s, 640 kilobytes was enough for just about everybody — until the introduction of “terminate and stay resident” programs and task switching software, and ultimately a full-blown graphic user interface chewed up both memory space and processor cycles like… well, like shoes and old coats fill up closets.
I think it’s reasonable to expect a new interface — one that is to our current “windowing” GUI as that GUI was to the command line interface — will soon change the way we interact with our computers. I expect that same interface, and the new applications that it makes possible, will require every bit of the gigahertz-plus processors currently on the market… and will likely be hungry for more.
We are, right now, at a critical juncture where evolution of our existing interface simply isn’t enough. Even as you read this you’re employing one interface [Bloggle’s], within an interface [your browser’s], within yet another interface [your computer’s operating system]. We’ve reached a level of complexity which is often problematic for experienced computer users, and can be simply overwhelming for the computer novice. And this at a time when there are increasingly more novice than experienced computer users!
It’s time for a change. For new, simpler modes of interaction between human and computer. And, since we’ve clearly reached the point at which people find it increasingly difficult to understand how to interact with their computers, it’s time that our computers take on the task of understanding how to interact with us.
I imagine that’ll take a bit of processing power. Mr. Dell? Mr. Weitzen? What do you think?