Welcome!

Microservices Expo Authors: Mehdi Daoudi, Liz McMillan, Don MacVittie, John Katrick, Pat Romanski

Related Topics: Mobile IoT

Mobile IoT: Article

21st Century Wireless Tools: Working in a Networked World…

21st Century Wireless Tools: Working in a Networked World…

Companies are always risking their business, betting on what will be happening next year, and how they can make money out of it. The trick is to get it right.

We all know that we work in a fast-moving industry. Even before wireless communications raced ahead, the IT field was already moving too quickly for most industry commentators - fast enough in fact to make a fool of anyone rash enough to try to predict future developments.

From the famous IBM statement that the total world market for computers amounted to no more than 20 units, to Bill Gates saying that no one could ever use more than 640KB of RAM, history is littered with embarrassing comments on the future...and some more expensive errors of judgment. The Intel Web site makes no mention of the 80186, moving straight from the 80188 to the 80286; no one guessed at the time that backwards compatibility would be so important - something we now take for granted with every new development.

In the wireless world things are even worse, with companies staking their whole business model on the uptake of new technologies barely out of the lab. 3G networks really sum up this inability to guess what's happening next. No one knows what they'll be used for, but whatever it is, it's going to have to be expensive if the networks are going to turn a profit. It's remarkable that companies investing so much in future developments seem to spend so little effort trying to understand it, adopting the "If we build it, they will buy it" approach to development, often at a cost.

One company interested in what the future looks like is Xerox. If they could only turn their hand to making money out of their predictions, they could be dominating many diverse markets today. The Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) is trying to work out how computers and documents are going to be used in the wireless office of the future, how we'll interact with them, and what they'll do for us. You may have heard of Xerox PARC. They played a large part in developments such as the Graphical User Interface (GUI), Ethernet, and many of the Internet standards in use today. Their visions have helped shape the office you work in and the software you use, based on the point of view of the document as central, and everything else just tools to manipulate it.

Xerox doesn't always get it right. Many of their ideas are fanciful and far-fetched. Some are just too far ahead of their time, but some are becoming reality as we watch. One of these ideas describes the kinds of wireless computers that are going to exist, and how they can work together in a new kind of office. They're known as the Pad, the Tab, and the Screen.

The Pad
By examining how people work, looking at how they interact with the space around them, researchers at Xerox realized that we like to be surrounded by paper, or more accurately, by documents. The familiar desktop interface of modern computers bears very little resemblance to a real desk, with its piles of paper and printouts, handwritten notes, and scribbled details. We seem to like to work with our documents spread around us, not neatly displayed on a screen at eye level, but physically near us. The work we're most interested in is beside us, while work to be considered later moves to the side of the desk. Attempts to recreate this interface on a screen are, basically, laughable, and while larger screens may make us more comfortable with digital representations of documents, we still seem to need their physical presence to organize ourselves.

So the researchers considered how to make this digital, and decided that the solution was a large number of flat-screen wireless displays, each with a single document. When you sit down to work in the morning, instead of printing out your tasks for the day, you would bring up that document on a Pad, then probably place it on your desk. Another Pad might contain a printout of your current project status, while another has some slides you were working on, and yet another, some notes you made about future projects. These Pads would pile up around your desk - in the same way as the paper sheets there now - reminding you of things that remain to be done. Once a task is completed you'd clear the Pads involved with it, and they'd be ready to be used again.

Obviously, any Pad would be capable of displaying any document, but that isn't how they'll be used. Interfacing with the Pads would, most likely, be through a touch screen, but being wirelessly networked would mean that a keyboard or other interfacing method could easily be used.

Pads should replace the ubiquitous VDU on every desk, allowing a more natural way of working and preventing us from trying to fit our lives into a 17-inch screen.

The Tab
The Tab is a very small device, the size of a pager or wristwatch (it may even be a pager or watch, in addition to being a Tab). With only very limited display and interface options, the Tab offers only the minimum of document editing features. Tabs are more about people, and could well be built into name badges or corporate passes. They also have the ability to hold documents for transportation, and some may offer basic reviewing features.

Note that the Tab itself isn't considered to have much in the way of local storage, but always exists in a wirelessly networked environment. I might be working late, and decide to take some work home with me, so I transfer some documents from the Pads on my desk to my Tab to take home. When I get home I can simply transfer them to any Pads I have there, but the documents themselves never actually moved because a central server holds them. Only my perception of their location changes. If I lose my Tab on the way home no data has been lost. Though I may have some trouble finding it again, it's still there on the server. In this way all of the problems of multiple copies of files, and version modification, are addressed.

The Screen
The Screen is the simplest of our trio of devices. It's a large screen, probably mounted on a wall or other display surface. Networked in the same way as the Pads and Tabs, I would use a Screen to show work to colleagues or to give presentations. Displaying a document would be just a matter of copying it onto a Screen where I wanted to show it. Again, the document itself wouldn't move, only my perception of where it was located.

Obviously Pads, Tabs, and Screens constitute only the front end of the system. It should be obvious that such an environment is going to need a complex of back-end servers managing all the documents and ensuring that they appear to be where the users imagine them to be. The complexity of such a system shouldn't be underestimated. These devices would be very basic terminals, reliant on a server to carry out most of their processing tasks and only able to perform the most basic of functions without network connectivity. But such servers do exist, and network reliability has never been better. The servers are going to have to be able to talk to all the devices, all the time, and some form of standard wireless network is going to be essential. Xerox has done much work with infrared communications, though Bluetooth would now seem the obvious alternative.

It's when we consider the devices, themselves, that our technological limitations become obvious. The Tab is relatively easy - just mount Bluetooth into a watch and you're 90% there. The Screen is, similarly, easily created from a standard PC connected to a projector or plasma wall display, but the Pad is a more difficult challenge.

To get a letter-sized device, with a display of sufficient quality to read text from, and cheap enough for a dozen on every desk, isn't easy and perhaps isn't yet possible. Even ignoring the problem of needing to keep the cost down, the simple challenge of producing a device slim enough to be piled onto a desk, yet robust enough to survive a modern office environment, could well prove impossible without stronger materials or better manufacturing processes. The nearest equivalent would be the Web pads, as demonstrated at every consumer electronics show for the last few years, yet strangely absent from local stores. But these devices may well be overpowered for our needs, leading to their high cost and bulky size, and thus their lack of marketplace success.

Of course, it isn't necessary to implement the whole model to benefit from the ideas within it. What Pads, Tabs, and Screens are actually about is working with documents, rather than files or directories. The user experience is wholly document-centric and users don't need to know where the files are or how they're organized, just how to use them. The three devices described demonstrate the three ways in which documents are used, and attempt to describe devices that might fit each role perfectly, without users having to change their way of working to suit the machines. When any device can be used to access any information we'll really be working in a networked world. I'm looking forward to it.

For additional information, WBT readers can go to the fasinating Xerox Palo Alto Research Center Web site at: www.parc.xerox.com.

More Stories By Bill Ray

Bill Ray, former editor-in-chief (and continuing distinguished contributor to) Wireless Business & Technology magazine, has been developing wireless applications for over 20 ears on just about every platform available. Heavily involved in Java since its release, he developed some of the first cryptography applications for Java and was a founder of JCP Computer Services, a company later sold to Sun Microsystems. At Swisscom he was responsible for the first Java-capable DTV set-top box, and currently holds the position of head of Enabling Software at 02, a UK network operator.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@MicroservicesExpo Stories
The past few years have seen a huge increase in the amount of critical IT services that companies outsource to SaaS/IaaS/PaaS providers, be it security, storage, monitoring, or operations. Of course, along with any outsourcing to a service provider comes a Service Level Agreement (SLA) to ensure that the vendor is held financially responsible for any lapses in their service which affect the customer’s end users, and ultimately, their bottom line. SLAs can be very tricky to manage for a number ...
As many know, the first generation of Cloud Management Platform (CMP) solutions were designed for managing virtual infrastructure (IaaS) and traditional applications. But that's no longer enough to satisfy evolving and complex business requirements. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Scott Davis, Embotics CTO, explored how next-generation CMPs ensure organizations can manage cloud-native and microservice-based application architectures, while also facilitating agile DevOps methodology. He expla...
Modern software design has fundamentally changed how we manage applications, causing many to turn to containers as the new virtual machine for resource management. As container adoption grows beyond stateless applications to stateful workloads, the need for persistent storage is foundational - something customers routinely cite as a top pain point. In his session at @DevOpsSummit at 21st Cloud Expo, Bill Borsari, Head of Systems Engineering at Datera, explored how organizations can reap the bene...
Our work, both with clients and with tools, has lead us to wonder how it is that organizations are handling compliance issues in the cloud. The big cloud vendors offer compliance for their infrastructure, but the shared responsibility model requires that you take certain steps to meet compliance requirements. Which lead us to start poking around a little more. We wanted to get a picture of what was available, and how it was being used. There is a lot of fluidity in this space, as in all things c...
Gaining visibility in today’s sprawling cloud infrastructure is complex and laborious, involving drilling down into tools offered by various cloud services providers. Enterprise IT organizations need smarter and effective tools at their disposal in order to address this pertinent problem. Gaining a 360 - degree view of the cloud costs requires collection and analysis of the cost data across all cloud infrastructures used inside an enterprise.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Synametrics Technologies will exhibit at SYS-CON's 22nd International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Synametrics Technologies is a privately held company based in Plainsboro, New Jersey that has been providing solutions for the developer community since 1997. Based on the success of its initial product offerings such as WinSQL, Xeams, SynaMan and Syncrify, Synametrics continues to create and hone inn...
Admiral Calcote - also known as Lee Calcote (@lcalcote) or the Ginger Geek to his friends - gave a presentation entitled Characterizing and Contrasting Container Orchestrators at the 2016 All Day DevOps conference. Okay, he isn't really an admiral - nor does anyone call him that - but he used the title admiral to describe what container orchestrators do, relating it to an admiral directing a fleet of container ships. You could also say that they are like the conductor of an orchestra, directing...
The past few years have brought a sea change in the way applications are architected, developed, and consumed—increasing both the complexity of testing and the business impact of software failures. How can software testing professionals keep pace with modern application delivery, given the trends that impact both architectures (cloud, microservices, and APIs) and processes (DevOps, agile, and continuous delivery)? This is where continuous testing comes in. D
"WineSOFT is a software company making proxy server software, which is widely used in the telecommunication industry or the content delivery networks or e-commerce," explained Jonathan Ahn, COO of WineSOFT, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Some people are directors, managers, and administrators. Others are disrupters. Eddie Webb (@edwardawebb) is an IT Disrupter for Software Development Platforms at Liberty Mutual and was a presenter at the 2016 All Day DevOps conference. His talk, Organically DevOps: Building Quality and Security into the Software Supply Chain at Liberty Mutual, looked at Liberty Mutual's transformation to Continuous Integration, Continuous Delivery, and DevOps. For a large, heavily regulated industry, this task ...
The notion of improving operational efficiency is conspicuously absent from the healthcare debate - neither Obamacare nor the newly proposed GOP plan discusses the impact that a step-function improvement in efficiency could have on access to healthcare (through more capacity), quality of healthcare services (through reduced wait times for patients) or cost (through better utilization of scarce, expensive assets).
There is a huge demand for responsive, real-time mobile and web experiences, but current architectural patterns do not easily accommodate applications that respond to events in real time. Common solutions using message queues or HTTP long-polling quickly lead to resiliency, scalability and development velocity challenges. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Ryland Degnan, a Senior Software Engineer on the Netflix Edge Platform team, will discuss how by leveraging a reactive stream-based protocol,...
In a recent post, titled “10 Surprising Facts About Cloud Computing and What It Really Is”, Zac Johnson highlighted some interesting facts about cloud computing in the SMB marketplace: Cloud Computing is up to 40 times more cost-effective for an SMB, compared to running its own IT system. 94% of SMBs have experienced security benefits in the cloud that they didn’t have with their on-premises service
"I focus on what we are calling CAST Highlight, which is our SaaS application portfolio analysis tool. It is an extremely lightweight tool that can integrate with pretty much any build process right now," explained Andrew Siegmund, Application Migration Specialist for CAST, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
DevOps promotes continuous improvement through a culture of collaboration. But in real terms, how do you: Integrate activities across diverse teams and services? Make objective decisions with system-wide visibility? Use feedback loops to enable learning and improvement? With technology insights and real-world examples, in his general session at @DevOpsSummit, at 21st Cloud Expo, Andi Mann, Chief Technology Advocate at Splunk, explored how leading organizations use data-driven DevOps to close th...
The dynamic nature of the cloud means that change is a constant when it comes to modern cloud-based infrastructure. Delivering modern applications to end users, therefore, is a constantly shifting challenge. Delivery automation helps IT Ops teams ensure that apps are providing an optimal end user experience over hybrid-cloud and multi-cloud environments, no matter what the current state of the infrastructure is. To employ a delivery automation strategy that reflects your business rules, making r...
The goal of Microservices is to improve software delivery speed and increase system safety as scale increases. Microservices being modular these are faster to change and enables an evolutionary architecture where systems can change, as the business needs change. Microservices can scale elastically and by being service oriented can enable APIs natively. Microservices also reduce implementation and release cycle time and enables continuous delivery. This paper provides a logical overview of the Mi...
"We started a Master of Science in business analytics - that's the hot topic. We serve the business community around San Francisco so we educate the working professionals and this is where they all want to be," explained Judy Lee, Associate Professor and Department Chair at Golden Gate University, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Gone are the days when application development was the daunting task of the highly skilled developers backed with strong IT skills, low code application development has democratized app development and empowered a new generation of citizen developers. There was a time when app development was in the domain of people with complex coding and technical skills. We called these people by various names like programmers, coders, techies, and they usually worked in a world oblivious of the everyday pri...
The “Digital Era” is forcing us to engage with new methods to build, operate and maintain applications. This transformation also implies an evolution to more and more intelligent applications to better engage with the customers, while creating significant market differentiators. In both cases, the cloud has become a key enabler to embrace this digital revolution. So, moving to the cloud is no longer the question; the new questions are HOW and WHEN. To make this equation even more complex, most ...