15 December 2005

Technology leapfrog

One of the big disadvantages of being a leader in technology is that early, inferior versions tend to get entrenched as standards. For instance, the television standard used in the US, NTSC, doesn't produce image quality nearly as good as PAL/SECAM. And the cell phones in use in most of the world work more seamlessly than those in the US.

Places which are not on the leading edge benefit from the mistakes and advances made by others. Cambodia and many other developing countries have not needed to develop extensive wired telephone networks, as most people simply use cell phones.

Now cities in the US are, over the strenuous objections of the telecommunications companies, are beginning to provide Internet connectivity. I would guess that the WiFi used by Tempe to provide access will soon be superseded by a better wireless technology, possibly WiMax. And when the price on that better technology comes down, the developing world will be able to take advantage of it in the same way that they're taking advantage of cell phone technology.

Should that, coupled with the $100 laptop, come to pass, Sun Microsystems' vision that "the network is the computer", can become a reality. In that model, most of the processing load is offloaded to servers, so users don't need to have extremely powerful machines, no matter what Intel's Craig Barrett says.

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