The Past:

old school compComputing used to be centralized, using terminals to access the mainframe was the norm. Following the advent and acceptance of the PC in the mid 1980’s, decentralization made it possible for employees to have all the computing power needed to do their job right from their desk. This decentralization and our individual computers were supported by the advancement of networks and the internet. During this era of decentralization, programming languages matured, tools matured, and operating systems matured. With this maturation, a new shift has begun to gain momentum – Centralization.

As we become more mobile people and workers, we have been supported or spurred on by the gains provided by the re-centralization of computing. Moving data storage and computing power onto servers and then on to the Cloud, has given access to more. But this transition is not without growing pains.

Shift 1: Languages are not slowing down.

Taking computing to servers and the Cloud has allowed for access to websites and interactions with data from mobile devices in disparate locations with a relatively similar experience. We’ve moved from accessing websites on early smartphones to using native apps to complete specific tasks. This functionality has been made possible by languages like HTML and Javascript, which have reached a level of maturity but have also continued to evolve. Through this evolution, and specifically the use of HTML5, mobile websites are becoming richer and include more and more functionality.

For websites, when they are accessed on a mobile device, HTML5 is making it possible to include functionality which we would only expect to experience from an app. At the moment, it’s fairly unusual to access the camera on your phone from a mobile website; but we are much more acclimated to completing that same task from a native mobile app.

With this shift, the question remains: what are the implications? The growth of functionality possible for websites built in HTML5 will eat away at mobile apps. Why would you code a native app when you can code smartphone functionality into your website? In addition to the expanding possibilities for websites, the cost of supporting multiple native apps is also increasing due to the size and complexity of mobile apps. The increases in development and support costs will drive businesses to consider cross platform development.

At the moment, HTML5 websites aren’t as powerful as native apps, but as costs increase, we should all be expecting that to change. Ferrari’s are nice, but we can’t all afford them, so we’ll have to make hard choices: a more powerful website used across platforms or separately developed and managed websites and mobile apps.

Shift 2: The Heavy OS Undone by the Browser

As more and more of our computer use moves into the cloud, there will no longer be the need for a full Operating System. We’re beginning to see this with Chrome OS. Without an OS, you can still accomplish much of your work in a format that is widely consumable. As this shift occurs it will happen at a different rate for different types of users – Creators and Consumers. It is already very common for Consumers to live without an OS and depend on their browser for access to information, files, and data. For Creators, this will be a much more difficult, and perhaps painful, task – it’s difficult for many to imagine developing code and creating software without an Operating System. However, when the act of creation (vs. consumption of content) moves off the desktop – because eventually it will – the OS will be swiftly replaced by the browser. The shift away from the OS is being encouraged by software developers who are building new product features Cloud first; as well as Companies like Microsoft and Adobe, and government agencies like the GSA. And on the server side OS-like features that are required for next generation technologies such as containers, will facilitate rapid, secure, and inexpensive infrastructure.

Shift 3: The Cloud Replaces the Desktop

cloud_swiss_army_knife_nobgThe same technology that is enabling Cloud providers to be more efficient and is working toward replacing the OS, will replace the desktop. CodeEnvy has 150,000 customers for example, and allows all of them to stop configuring developer environment and start developing online. Like content consumer being moved away from their Operating Systems and toward browsers, content creators will face a similar transition as they are moved off their desktops. As Cloud environments become more efficient, reliable, and powerful, individual computer capabilities become less important. Unlike the transition of consumers to the browsers, which is driven by software developers, the shift off the desktop will be driven by the shortage of IT support skills and time. It’s just too hard and expensive for companies to maintain the staff required for desktop development.

Shift 4: Back to Centralized Computing

All of these transitions result in a swing back to centralized computing. But this time we won’t be at terminals connecting to the corporate mainframe, you’re browser-run device will be connecting to the Cloud. This will happen to everyone. Content creators and content consumers alike. We won’t buy software packages that need to be installed, we’ll subscribe to subscription services. Why? Because it’s cheaper and faster, and there aren’t enough IT guys (or money) to sustain the support of desktops, laptops, and local servers. Business leaders and technologists are and will continue to be incentivized to make this shift because they can no longer support the staffing, skills, overhead, or technology delays.

Hold on:

Prepare yourself and your organization for these shifts, they are coming. No one stopped the PC revolution and no one is going to stop the Cloud revolution – EVEN IF there are parts of the transition that make you really uncomfortable.

 

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