History is All Lies: The Pendulum of Computing Paradigms

As with many of these posts, I learned that history is often apocryphal when I go to link quotes. I started by trying to find the origin of this famous quote:

I think there is a world market for maybe five computers” – Thomas J. Watson

This is probably a misquote, but it is a great start to the pendulum that is the centralized  vs. decentralized computing model. Let’s walk through the 3 major computing paradigms: Big Iron, Enterprise Computing, and The Web, after which we will look at where we stand today with Mobile Computing.

Big Iron: In the beginning we had centralized computing. Giant machines with an army of attendants that fed in punch cards. Then we attached dumb terminals, teletypes, to it and called it Time Sharing. This was centralized.

Enterprise: Slowly the dumb terminals started getting things like storage. Moore’s law took effect. We got computers on the desktop and the model was Client Server. While there were some shared resources, computers generally had all their software and data locally. This was decentralized.

The Web: When the web was born we had light weight browsers that connected to powerful servers once more. Once again all the resources resided in the center, and the browsers were essentially dumb. With the innovation of AJAX the browser started doing more work for the user, but it was still essentially a dumb client. Centralized.

Mobile Computing: At first phones were dumb; but soon  Moore’s Law kicked in and the devices became powerful enough to do real work. We even renamed them Smart Phones. This gave rise to application paradigm. Once again, the phone ran software and much of the data needed was stored locally in case the network wasn’t accessible. Decentralized.

As long as Moore’s Law holds, which I believe it will, this pendulum will keep swinging back and forth as the dumb devices begin to have enough computing power that it becomes worth the effort to harness them. I believe this has some interesting implications about the different ecosystems that Apple and Google have created, the former being more device oriented and the later focusing more heavily on the cloud.

1 comment

  1. Dimitri DeFigueiredo

    I doubt Apple is focusing on the devices. As I see it, they all want to track us and mine the data. They just offer different perks in return. There is a competition going on and Amazon, Google, Apple, Facebook and the like all want to be “your favorite Big Brother”. Why do I have to sign into my cloud account to use my device?

    They are really vying. It’s probably nice being Big Brother…

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