This entry summarizes major topics that drive the computer and consumer electronics industries. It is intended for newcomers to the field who want a brief summary of current topics as well as relevant history.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
The 21st century is the true manifestation of artificial intelligence for the masses. AI is making every device smarter and quite often easier to use. See AI
, virtual assistant
The latest craze is the blockchain, which is the architecture of Bitcoin and many other digital currencies, some of which are 100% scams. Touted as revolutionary as the Internet, time will tell whether this changes the architecture of every financial system in the world. See Bitcoin
Virtual and Augmented Reality
Headset-based virtual reality (VR) games are bringing gaming to a new dimension. Augmented reality (AR) is used for both fun and information. See virtual reality
and augmented reality
Big data means making sense out of the huge amount of data companies have amassed over the years and continue to generate. Finding patterns in that data that lead to streamlining inventory, manufacturing, sales and marketing is the latest analytical chore for large organizations. See big data
Social networking changed the world of human interaction, allowing everyone to stay in touch. Every website and software application has a social component that lets people share what they see, hear or watch with friends, family and colleagues.
However, there is a downside. Feelings, images and videos posted on the Internet might remain online forever. In addition, social sites along with search engines know more about you than you may wish. They use that information to target ads and spot trends, and they sell it to other parties. Social sites such as Omlet buck the trend and allow users to retain control over what they post. Snapchat makes images disappear on the recipient's device after a short time to keep information private. See Facebook
Smartphones - Truly Personal
One year after the introduction of the iPhone, Apple introduced the App Store in the summer of 2008 and revolutionized the smartphone industry forever. No device has become more useful and more personal than the smartphone with its plethora of software applications.
Google followed with its Android platform. Due to Android's embrace of multiple carriers and hardware vendors (iPhone was only AT&T at the onset) and ever increasing screen sizes, Android became the #1 smartphone vendor worldwide by a huge margin. Windows-based phones have made a very small dent, and although BlackBerry users were given great new models to choose from, the company failed to sway people to stay in the fold (see BlackBerry 10
). See iPhone
, Windows Phone
For quite some time now, Web 2.0 has turned the Internet into a global computing platform for publishing information and running applications. "User-generated content" is a highly touted aspect of Web 2.0, in which anyone can publish anything in a blog, social networking site or wiki. See user-generated content
and social networking site
As applications coming from the Web increasingly have the performance, look and feel of traditional applications that previously had to be installed in the user's computer, Web 2.0 also implies running more applications from the Internet. See Web 2.0
and cloud computing
Cloud computing refers to using third-party Internet providers to host websites, services and applications. Cloud computing is huge business in the 21st century. See cloud computing
For better or worse, we are immersed in wireless communications. AM, FM, TV, satellite, GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and cellular signals radiate everywhere. With a home router and Wi-Fi hotspot, music and video signals are bouncing all over the house at ever-increasing frequencies. Unfortunately, some people are very sensitive to the radiation (see electromagnetic hypersensitivity
). See wireless LAN
, Wi-Fi hotspot
, cellular generations
and wireless glossary
Nothing in the computer/communications industries ever came onto the scene with more momentum than the World Wide Web. The Web's hyperlink, an address that points to another Web page on the same server or on any server in the world, interlinked planet earth like nothing before it.
As the Web embraced e-commerce, every company rethought its strategies for sales and customer relations. Practically every software product was affected, and every application was reworked to deal with the Internet in some manner. Now that the Internet is available on billions of smartphones and tablets, access to Web-based content is even more ubiquitous. With video streaming, video calling and voice over IP (VoIP), the Internet has become the global communications backbone. Myriad opportunities arise from the fact that one can look at and operate anything from anywhere. See Internet
, World Wide Web
, cable Internet
and IP on Everything
Client and Server
The trend in the late 1980s and early 1990s was to migrate information systems from terminals connected to centralized (mostly IBM) mainframes to a client/server architecture. The clients are generally Windows-based PCs, and the servers run Windows, Unix or Linux. A major incentive for the change was the huge amount of applications and sources for PC hardware.
Along came the Web, and the client part of client/server became the Web browser, which provides a platform-independent, universal interface for accessing data and running applications. As mobile devices became ubiquitous, the smartphone and tablet became the clients. No matter the architecture, there is always a client and server relationship.
Ironically, with so many operations performed in Internet datacenters (the cloud), centralized architecture is alive and well. So are IBM mainframes, which function as servers in many large organizations. See client/server
Networking is the lifeblood of an organization's high-tech infrastructure. Local applications combined with Internet applications and services increasingly place heavy demands on the network. In addition, tying networks together when companies expand or merge is a daunting task for network administrators. Starting in the mid-1990s, three trends took place: #1 - Ethernet switches replaced Ethernet hubs to increase total bandwidth, #2 - network backbones were upgraded to Gigabit Ethernet and 10 Gigabit Ethernet, and #3 - the network protocol migrated to TCP/IP, the standard of the Internet. See enterprise networking
, Ethernet switch
, Gigabit Ethernet
, 10 Gigabit Ethernet
In the early 1990s, the pioneering collaboration applications under the "groupware" moniker were Lotus Notes, GroupWise and Microsoft Exchange, which included email, document sharing and group calendaring and scheduling.
Today, a collaboration component is available in numerous applications used to create documents, which enable two or more people to write, draw and comment together in real time on a project. However, applications such as Slack and Cliq are designed specifically for project collaboration, offering text, audio and video chat and document storage. See collaborative browsing
The price of hardware continues to plummet. Each year, we get more computer per dollar than we did the year before. A full-blown Windows PC can be purchased for under USD $800 and entry-level machines for under $300. Hardware seems cheap, but this is misleading, because software is not always a bargain.
Although there is a vast amount of off-the-shelf software packages for myriad requirements, even the smallest organizations have special needs. Custom programming ranges from $75 to $150 an hour, and consultants cost $150 to $300 an hour. Add up a few weeks of third-party people time, and the cost of hardware looks like chump change.
Half the Equation
This adage has been used in the computer field for decades but is only a partial truth. Hardware may be cheap but custom programming and consulting are not.
End of hot topics.