28 January, 2010

You kids get off my lawn! (oh, and the Apple iPad)

Lately I've been rather busy with work, primarily my main client as well as with the newer work I've been doing with a soon-to-be unveiled startup of which I'm a partner. Our product is launching by the end of the first quarter 2010 and I will be sure to update the site with all the details.

What is really on my mind lately is the annoyances I've been feeling more and more lately regarding what I feel is a loss of substance in the field of computing, interfaces and the sector of artificial intelligence research. Though just recently with the launch of the newly unveiled Apple iPad did I start to feel some alleviation. I will address several of the aforementioned items, but will leave the AI discussion for another post as it will be a lengthy one at best.

Firstly, as 2010 has rolled upon us I started reflecting on how it must be for kids these days and their constant exposure to computers. Primarily how difficult it must be for future programmers and software engineers to get started programming on machines so complex with operating systems so complex that to do even the simplest task requires learning what potentially are complex API's. When I was starting out with computers back in 1979-1980 one could buy a computer (which came with at least BASIC) as well as general instruction books explaining how to program in said language. Within 15-30 minutes any kid would be able to draw bitmapped graphics on screen and possibly even animate and/or add sound as well.

Given that the machine in question on which I first started (a 16-bit machine no less), the TI-994/a, was a 1.067mHz speed daemon, there is much to be said for its overall capabilities. This blog post is larger in size than that machine had RAM (a whole 16k's worth). So, it is true that with all of the amazing capabilities and speed of our newer machines (such as my primary machine with its 8 hyperthreaded cores over two physical quad-core Nehalem Xeon's and 6gb of RAM (of a possible 64gb)) it would be expected. Still, something is lost in the overall simplicity.

Furthermore, my recent curmudgeonly slanted mindset spread to thoughts about how access for all destroyed the quality of the average computer user, especially those networked users (which nowadays includes virtually everyone). When I first started online, there was no AOL, there was no web, there was the internet, but it was limited to Academia, Science Research facilities and the Government. We had modems primarily running at 110/300/440 and later 1200 baud and up. We had acoustic coupler RS232 interfaces (they while novel, are not something which I find myself longing for once again) and we were happy as can be. We knew that getting online and/or running into other computer programmers/enthusiasts (they were usually one in the same back in the day) would lead to interesting conversations/exchanges of a higher intellectual level as opposed to nowadays where the overwhelming majority of computer users are simply that, users who couldn't code their way out of a cardboard box.

Enter the Apple iPad. A machine designed for everyone BUT programmers/software engineers & developers. It provides the mundanes with the functionality to go on about their daily online existences and I'm truly hoping that such devices as this catch on. I hope that items such as this replace the majority of those users' computers. This would give us a kind of return back to the day when the technorati and intellectually gifted were the only ones with machines capable of creating new software. It will help like minded people easily be able to pick out those of similar ilk simply by their possessing an actual computer.

Now I realise that there are people complaining about the iPad specifically those under the spell of Stallman (RMS) and his free software foundation but it is time for them to be grown ups about the situation. If someone creates software, it is their right to keep the source closed, just as it is Stallman's right not to run it on his machine(s). He can be an idealist with cramming such a non-sensical mindset on everyone. Most people really could care less because there are those sources which provide for the applications people want and use, and have no desire (or capability) to modify them anyway, hence the iPad and future devices of similar type are perfect as end users are consumers of the fruits borne of software engineers, not producers of such software.

Now I realise that as usual, I'm diverging from my original topic by going off on a mildly related tangent, so i'll wrap this up by simply stating that it is my hope that with the newer type of device designed solely for the everyday user that we will see a reduction in actual programmable computer sales indicative of a clear divide between producers and consumers once again making a clear distinction between those with the mental prowess and logic abilities/desire to create software and utilise machines to their fullest, and those who are simply consumers of said labour.