Trends in Computing and Fulfilling Basic Human Needs

AT&T plans to sell NetBooks from prices as low as USD50 each with built-in wireless cards. Netbooks, mini notebooks, or sub-notebooks as they are called, are mainly aimed for those who need to have easy access to the internet and e-mails while being constantly on the move.

Netbooks are larger than PDAs, making them better for browsing the internet and reading emails in full view (as opposed to the small, limited view offered by PDAs). However, Netbooks are smaller and lighter than normal laptops, making them easier and less tiring to carry around.

Netbooks are typically powered by less powerful CPUs, have smaller keyboards and smaller screens compared to laptops. As such, they may not be suitable for full-fledged applications that demand a high level of CPU power. However, with the advent of lightweight internet-based software such as Google Apps, Windows Live and various widget platforms to help users with tasks like maintaining their appointment calendars, planning their to-do lists, checking emails, reading news, preparing/sharing documents and posting their activities to personal and corporate blogs; users may rely less on laptops in the future.

Escalating reductions in the price of computers augurs an important social trend. It means a lower cost of access to hardware and software resources required by the typical computer user. In our current world, the ability to access computing resources play a vital role in providing access, enablement and empowerment to elements of basic human necessities such as food production, healthcare and education. With the lowering of computing costs, it is hoped that the divide between those who have access to computers and the Internet, and those who do not will be drastically narrowed. This will bring greater productivity, better coordination and communication, more transparent market practices and richer learning experiences to those in the lower economic groups and the under-privileged, including students and children from poorer societies.

Equally important to reducing the cost of computing is reducing the cost of communicating. While computer hardware costs are drastically dropping, and software availability is greatly enhanced through wide adoption of open source software and internet-based applications; the cost of communication had been dropping at slower rates compared to computing resources. For a start, I would like to suggest that an index comparing per capita spending on communication (which is a basic necessity in the current world) against spending on other basic necessity be defined and monitored. Unless addressed, the lingering high cost of communication will impede rapid progress in closing the great digital divide between the haves and the have-nots.

The cost of computing is not contained to monetary value alone. Since computers do not emit smoke or other waste product into their direct environment, it is easy to forget that electricity consumption by our computing resources, which includes networking equipment, servers and workstations, add-up to a significant carbon footprint. Similarly, plastic and other ingredients in used computer products add-up to the amount of toxic waste we discharge into Mother Earth. To combat the exponentially increasing cost to our environment, we will need to hasten our utilization of emerging technological trends such as cloud computing and personal virtual workspaces where we do not have to carry our own personal computers (which may be running idle when we do not use them) but instead where we share a pool of computers. Technologies such as Rich Internet Applications and Widgets are important enablers for such resource pooling initiatives.

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