There’s a very interesting series of articles over at the British newsweekly the Economist about the next great computing challenge.

Not speed. Not portability. Not wireless.


They call about the “conquest of complexity,” but it really boils down to MISS: Make It Simple, Stupid.

Why? As the article quotes someone as saying:

“. . . some 70% of the world’s population are “analogues”, who are “terrified by technology”, and for whom the pain of technology “is not just the time it takes to figure out new gadgets but the pain of feeling stupid at each moment along the way”. Another 15% are “digital immigrants”, typically thirty-somethings who adopted technology as young adults; and the other 15% are “digital natives”, teenagers and young adults who have never known and cannot imagine life without IM (instant messaging, in case you are an analogue).”

Believe it or not, most computer users really don’t like them. They’re too hard to use, and too unreliable. In the era when computers seem fast enough to the average person, and the silicon people can no longer rely on increased speed as the easy way to improve their machines, factors like customers’ desires will become much more important, simply because if you don’t give the Joe Sixpacks and Suits what they want, they just won’t buy.

The Economist survey goes on to talk about initially difficult items to use, items that needed ancient geeks to get and keep them working. Items like clocks, phonographs, cars and electricity.

How did they do that? Did they strip down the technologies? No, any of the technologies mentioned above are far more complex than they were in their high-tech day.

However, much of the addditional complexity came (and comes) from making these devices brain-dead easy to use. As the article states:

“You have to push all the complexity to the back end in order to make the front end very simple,” says Marc Benioff, the boss of Salesforce.com, a software firm that will be examined in a later article in this survey. This migration of complexity, says Mr Benioff, echoes the process of civilisation. Thus, every house initially has its own well and later its own generator. Civilisation turns houses into “nodes” on a public network that householders draw on. But the “interface”—the water tap, the toilet flush, the power switch—has to be “incredibly simple”. All the management of complexity now takes place within the network, so that consumers no longer even know when their electricity or water company upgrades its technology. Thus, from the user’s point of view, says Mr Benioff, “technology goes through a gradual disappearance process.”

What Does That Have To Do With Me?

It means change, a lot of change, in the years ahead.

For starters, making things simple will chew up resources. Instead of going faster, it will go “easier.”

This will be rather more appealing to even hardware manufacturers than in the past, because going faster won’t be so easy.

When you hear about initiatives like MS/Intel’s new “Digital Joy” campaign, these are the beginnings of a shift in the “easier” direction. After all, if you can’t sell speed anymore, you have to sell something to get people to replace computers.

A bit further down the road, the real purpose of dual-core processors for most people will probably not be making applications or games run faster, but rather have one processor to do the real “work” and have the other do the increasing amount of “housekeeping” an “easier” computer platform will require.

For sure, this will make geeks unhappy. If you think you’re seeing “bloatware” now, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

But (relatively) effortless computing is as inevitable as relatively effortless clock or car or electricity use, no matter what the culture of the makers might be.

Those who make the Sixpacks happy will be very successful the next decade. Those who won’t, won’t.

And if you think know, think about those clock and phonograph and electricity geeks of yesteryear. 🙂


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