My ideal computer
My ideal computer would host my e-mail, my blog and all my data. It would replace my phone and my game console. It would fit in my pocket and it's battery would last a full day. It would have a powerful CPU, an ergonomic keyboard, and a big screen.
My ideal computer does not exist.
But we can get close. The trick is to see this ideal computer as a means to an end. I don't really want this ideal computer. I want stuff that solve the same problems: access to my data, my mail and my blog; video games; web surfing.
Currently, we mainly use 3 kinds of computers:
The desktop computer is the most powerful and most comfortable. It can run demanding games, have a big screen and and an ergonomic keyboard. It won't leave your home, however.
The palmtop computer is the most portable. It will run all day long, and can be used anywhere. It lets you phone, take pictures, and quickly find where you are. It's not very comfortable, however: it has a small screen and a very small keyboard (if at all). It is best for casual, brief, and frequent usage.
The laptop computer is a compromise. It won't stay on all day long, nor can be used as a phone, but its bigger screen and decent keyboard make it suitable for serious work.
With these, the choice is relatively easy: I need a desktop and a palmtop. The desktop will store my data, my e-mails, and my blog. The palmtop will synchronise with it when I need it to. Problem solved?
To host my blog and my mail server, I have to let my mighty desktop computer Always plugged in, always connected to the internet. This raises some issues:
- My mighty desktop uses energy.
- It exposes itself to viruses.
- Many internet service providers don't let me send e-mail directly from home (they block the outgoing SMTP port).
- My ADSL connection don't let me upload much. My blog may lag.
- Running a personal server is difficult.
The vast majority of people don't leave their main computer always on. Their e-mails and their blog is hosted on remote servers. If they need to access their personal data remotely, they also use remote servers. This is extremely convenient: these services are free of charge, reliable, and very easy to use.
But they are not ideal.
Surrendering your private data to third parties is not ideal: you never know what other people could do with your data (you can watch a good, long explanation if you have two hours). What is ideal is you controlling your data while keeping the benefits of those shiny remote servers. What is ideal is solving the 5 problems I mentioned above.
Of those problems, the first 2 are easiest to solve:
I don't need a full desktop to host my email, my blog, and my data. I just need a plug computer. A plug computer is a computer which looks like a phone charger. It is a full computer, which can host your web site, your mail server, and more. It uses about 2 watts of power, which is about 50 times less than a regular desktop. Energy consumption is no longer a problem.
Current free and open source operating systems are very good at security. Viruses aren't really a problem for them. (Update, February 2016: Actually even Open BSD can be crap when the user doesn't know how to operate a computer —that is, most users. The security of those system has probably more to do with the technical aptitudes of their users than anything else. Even if they provably had zero vulnerability, you can still give away your root password, or worse, leave it blank. So the problem is less about technical vulnerabilities, and more about ergonomics and education.)
The third problem is more difficult. You probably will have to change your ISP, and chose one that let you send e-mail.
The fourth problem is very difficult to solve. Nearly all of us have asymmetric bandwidth. Download is fast and easy, while upload is slow and difficult. We can browse the web, but we can hardly make it: a personal web server will be slow to upload your content. A temporary solution is to make light web sites. A better one is to complain about it, spread the word and maybe even start a political campaign about that, but it will take time.
The fifth problem is just a matter of packaging. The software is there, but in such a way that only techies can reasonably install their own server. A packaging as easy as Gmail, Facebook, Flickr, or YouTube is entirely possible. We just need dedicated software.
Then, I will have my ideal computer: my plug computer will host my e-mails, my blog and all my data. My Desktop and palmtop computers will be my game console and my phone. I would carry my palmtop all day, and use my powerful CPU, my big screen and my ergonomic keyboard at home.