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Vanilla Skies

At the end of last week, I had my Blackberry replaced. And before you raise your eyebrows, it’s the wireless PDA from Research in Motion (RIM). I’ve had one for months now, a handy GPRS device, which mixes the look and feel of a Palm Pilot with an always-on email and SMS communicator. In fact, if they could lose the fiddly keyboard and add pen-input, then it would be almost perfect.

My latest toy, the Blackberry 6720 also adds a telephone feature and WAP browsing. The latter of course most of us will dismiss with a disgusted shrug, WAP is after all ‘crap’ but packing a mobile phone into the 6720 delivers the Holy Grail of a fully integrated communications device, one that synchronises with Outlook on my desktop, delivers my email when I’m in the bath, makes my GPRS capable Ericsson phone redundant and frees me from having to wear a jacket with a large enough pocket to keep my Compaq IPAQ in.

OK, I hear you say, he’s got another gadget and it doesn’t take digital photos or play music either. So what?

Well, the Blackberry is of course an integrated communications device for the mobile workforce rather than a cool alternative for the mobile phone, as seen in this month’s Vodafone adverts but this is where my imagination started to work.

Most of us have heard about Grid computing by now. The proliferation of increasingly connected new device types is gradually moving the conventional image of computing away from a centralised model of desktops and large servers to a truly distributed model, involving millions of different types of computing devices making connections between each other, on demand, rather like the neurons in our own brains. The Grid, like ‘The Matrix’, represents the future of computing and will change the world around us as radically as the Internet has done for Client Server Computing before it.

I found myself thinking about a future that echoed a science fiction story I read as a child. Everyone owned palm-sized devices, much like the Blackberry in front of me but what represented a fundamental leap forward beyond the integration of telecommunication features, such as Instant Messaging, email and the mobile phone, was the inclusion of a powerful, always connected, Search Engine feature. In the Sci-Fi story, any child could access the sum of mankind’s knowledge instantly and that’s not too far away from today’s Search Engines like Google.

This fantasy device was everything. It was information, communication and identity a single palm-sized package but the proliferation of such devices in conjunction with the Grid computing paradigm was going to have a profound impact on society but many times more powerful than the arrival of the telephone and the mobile phone before it.

Back in the land of the living, and the Blackberry and similar devices, are very much like the first creatures to leave the sea in the race to conquer the land. In a twenty-year process of evolution, represented by the collection of gadgets in my attic, all the right communications and software features have been integrated to make the adventure possible. What comes next, as wireless collides with the Internet, is an evolutionary race that will, within a decade, see advances and new devices which will make computing and digital communications a very personal part of our lives

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