Sunday, September 07, 2008

New directions, same impact...

If you have not caught my several posts about the direction information technology is headed and why it matters a lot to farmers, consider these two counteracting developments.

The first is something all Internet users like to whine about - speed. While those of us in the country are simply glad to have something better than dialup, even the hyperspeed fiber-optic consumers are running out of bandwidth at times. They are not amused.
Everyone hates their Internet service provider. And with good cause: In the age of ubiquitous Internet access, Web service in America is still often frustratingly slow. Tired of being the villain, telecom companies have assigned blame for this problem to a new bad guy. He's called the "bandwidth hog," and it's his fault that streaming video on your computer looks more like a slide show than a movie. The major ISPs all tell a similar story: A mere 5 percent of their customers are using around 50 percent of the bandwidth—sometimes more during peak hours. While these "power users" are sharing three-gig movies and playing online games, poor granny is twiddling her thumbs waiting for to load.

The ISPs are certainly correct that there's a problem: The current network in the United States struggles to accommodate everyone, and the barbarians at the gate—voice-over-IP telephony, live video streams, high-def movies—threaten to drown the grid. (This Deloitte report has a good treatment of that eventuality.) It's less clear that the telecom companies, fixated as they are on the bandwidth hogs, are doing a good job of managing the problem and planning for the future. The ISPs have put forward two big ideas, in recent months, about how to fix our bandwidth crisis. We can arrange these plans into two categories: horrible now and horrible later. [This is a superb article worth your time just to find out what the two proposed solutions could look like]
It is important to keep in mind it only takes a relative few bandwidth hogs to slow the system for all users, whether your system is a national behemoth or a very local ISP. I've noticed I can get more stuff done, for example early (5-7 AM) compared to after 4. Not only is this a mildly useful workaround (especially when you're my age and can't sleep in even if you want), it is a straightforward market response to signals.

But more ominous is the direction computing seems to be going. The operating model used to be a consumer buys a computer and buys some software (or more likely, has it thrust upon her i the form of bloatware - although this is changing) and does her little computing stuff all by herself.  Then we started including on-line aspects, such as having all the "Help" information accessed by the Internet instead of rapidly outdated virtual operating manuals contained in the code.

It didn't stop there. The value of connecting to individual computers for extracting information voluntarily and presenting advertising made it possible to give software away.  And not just lame little freebie programs - robust, Microsoft-butt-kicking applications like Firefox and OpenOffice.

Now we take it a step farther.  Enter cloud computing.

A week after Google released a Web browser of its own called Chrome, it's clear that despite the frailty of Chrome's beta code, there's a seismic shift occurring in the computer industry.

The desktop is dying. Long live the browser.

It's not that no one saw this coming. Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) anticipated the threat the browser posed to its desktop monopoly when it killed Netscape. But it was too late. Netscape metastasized and Mozilla emerged with Firefox, stronger than its predecessor thanks to the open source movement and its corporate supporters like Google, IBM, Sun Microsystems, and Yahoo.

At least as far back as 2005, there have been credible attempts to de-emphasize the desktop with Web-based media-sharing and application services like TransMedia's Glide. But such efforts have yet to reach critical mass.

Chrome marks the coming of age of cloud computing, or software as a service.  [More]

The upshot of this evolution in personal computing is the exponentially growing importance of high speed connections.  For us in the 5% the FCC doesn't really care about, this has huge implications.  Like Third World countries we will miss out on the enormous productivity gains that our physical isolation makes desperately more important.  Now throw in high gas prices and recalculate what living XX miles from town means to your ability to do business like competitors in EU, for example.

Nor is this merely BSP (blatant self-promotion) because more and more viewers who can watch USFR and AgDay on-line.  The advantages of computing power and data accessible anywhere without having to upload and download manually means partners working in fields miles apart can check the same planting spreadsheet or spraying map, add new info, and make sure the other knows without doing anything any differently than we now do in our overmachined offices.

More importantly, just like Google products such as blogger, the capabilities of the software will almost magically increase as the world's best coders do their thing in California and upgrade the tools for free. Once you have experienced this, you never go back to buying a box in a software store.

I have stopped apologizing for getting foamy at the mouth about the importance of broadband if you plan on farming ten years from now. But I gotta believe somewhere, somehow an ag vendor, grain merchandiser, or farm organization will finally grasp how powerful a marketing tool it would be to have their fingerprints and logo all over the solution to the rural broadband issue.

1 comment:

Ol James said...

Perty soon there will be side-bands, just like they did with the CB Radio. But alas I digress, I miss 8-tracks.
Still ya gotta wonder...
who really is Big Brother??