31 January 2006

Microsoft is Right - No, Really

At first sight, the $100 laptop has everything going for it: it is based around open source software, uses renewable energy (you wind it up), and is trying to do something really worthwhile - put computing into the hands of children in developing nations.

But I have to say that, even though it is being done for all the usual wrong reasons, Bill Gates's alternative solution - to use a mobile 'phone to provide the processing power - seems spot on to me. As prices continue to plummet, mobile 'phones will soon be affordable even in countries with very low per capita incomes.

Moreover, today's mobiles are already computers: they play music, take digital photos, and often run office-type software (to say nothing of games). And they just keep on getting smaller and lighter. Convergence from the other end - putting a 'phone into a portable computer - does not lead to the same end-result for one simple reason: there is a limit to how small you can make a keyboard.

Mobiles get round this problem by ignoring it: keyboard entry is done either in a minimalist form (texting) or not at all. As I've written elsewhere, once voice recognition systems are good enough to cope with breathless speech on the move with significant background noises, nobody would even think of using a keyboard; typing will become some ancient art like thatching or dry stone walling.

Better, then, to work out ways of turning what will soon be the ubiquitous mobile into a teaching tool. Better still, if that tool were based on some form of GNU/Linux for mobiles rather than Microsoft's proprietary solutions. But I fear this is unlikely to happen: the MIT project has achieved a technical, economic and political momentum that means it will carry on regardless of whether it is actually the best solution.


Anonymous said...

I am not completely sure that voice will take off to substitute the keyboard, even if it becomes that easy to use. In my opinion, writing and speaking are different, not just in action but also in content. The next time you write a blog entry think about dictating it to see if would come out the same way.

Not to mention something like programing. I am not sure I would be faster programing if I spoke to my computer.

Glyn Moody said...

You're right about programming (when Richard Stallman damaged his hands through too much typing, he tried to dictate his code - it didn't work).

But I was thinking more of the general users - the other six billion non-coders. For them, I think voice dictation might be good enough.

As far as blog entries are concerned, yes, it's hard to hone: but I think for many people spontaneity is more important than sophistication. Again, voice may be enough....

Anonymous said...

and for old codgers who cannot hit the right keys with their shaking fingers.p