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 hot topics as well as relevant history.
Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, along with blogs, have not only enabled everyone to publish everything from their daily activities to their most sublime thoughts, but they are changing global politics. The Web allowed documents in disparate servers to be linked, but personal and business social networking sites link humans together from around the globe, and people can find out what others are thinking and doing faster than they ever could in the past.
In addition, "social layers" are being added to countless Web sites as well as applications that let people reach out and share text, photos and videos with friends, family and colleagues who are online, whether occasionally or all the time. Countless Web sites have buttons that users can click to let people "like" the site on Facebook, send an e-mail about it or share its information and address on other popular sites.
Now that more than a billion users have access to the Internet with more than half a billion connecting via high-speed broadband, people can communicate with one another like never before. However, the sharing aspect of social networking is a double-edged sword as users must be aware of their service's privacy policies and what is made public and what is not.
Nevertheless, the "social" buzzword is on the top of the list right now as Web site owners and entrepreneurs try to capitalize on the latest craze. See Facebook
, Facebook Like
Smartphones - Truly Personal
In the summer of 2008, one year after the introduction of the iPhone, Apple introduced the iPhone application platform and App Store. After people use smartphones for a while, they come to realize that it is, in fact, their first true personal computer. Since they have the phones in their possession so much of the time, the ability to also do e-mail, ask (literally) for information, access any Web site, many of which have a mobile counterpart, play music, videos and games, as well as have access to myriad applications of every imaginable kind changes the paradigm as to what truly is a "personal" computer. In addition, reading text on a tiny screen is easier than many people would have thought. After all, narrow columns have been the newspaper format for centuries, and what's made this viable is excellent screen resolution.
The iPhone unleashed the smartphone phenomenon that enabled Android with its numerous phone models and carriers, combined with its larger screens and support for Flash movies (although Flash was later dropped), to take the lead in smartphone sales. BlackBerry users can choose from entirely new models (see BlackBerry 10
), while Windows Phone is gaining ground slowly. See iPhone
, Windows Phone
Web 2.0 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 refers to running more applications from the Internet. See Web 2.0
and cloud computing
Increasingly becoming mainstream, cloud computing refers to using third-party Internet providers to host an organizations Web sites and services, as well as using Web-based business software from application service providers (ASPs) on the Internet. See cloud computing
People are hooked on getting e-mail, stock quotes and up-to-the-minute news no matter where they are. The latter part of the 1990s witnessed a huge increase in wireless communications, which continues unabated. Wi-Fi hotspots have become extremely popular and either function as a convenient way to access the Internet or work like a mini cellphone system, letting users roam between buildings in a large complex with their laptops (see wireless LAN
GSM was the first cellular technology to support data, and CDMA systems followed suit. Cellular 3G/4G modems in laptops compete with Wi-Fi networks with the advantage of coverage almost everywhere. Wi-Fi hotspots may be faster than 3G/4G but are not ubiquitous. See cellular generations
and wireless glossary
Web services refers to linking two parties together over the Web such as buyers and sellers or seekers of information and the information itself. They use Web protocols to provide the transport mechanism so that requests can be made and answers retrieved. However, what gives Web services huge potential on the public Internet is the UDDI system, which is used to register a service so that any inquiring party can automatically discover it and then exchange information.
Web Services uses the XML markup language for defining the text and data structures that are exchanged. However, the real hard work is agreeing upon the description of the data they plan to pass back and forth to each other. See Web services
Nothing in the computer/communications industries ever came onto the scene with more momentum than the World Wide Web on the Internet. The simplicity of the Web's hyperlink, an address that points to another Web page on the same server or on any server in the world, spread like wildfire.
As it 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) growing daily, the Internet has become the global communications backbone of the world. There are myriad business opportunities arising from the fact that one can look at and operate anything from anywhere. See Internet
, World Wide Web
, cable Internet
and IP on Everything
Throughout the 1990s, new information systems were developed for Windows-based PCs connected by local area networks (LANs) rather than the central computer architecture of mainframes and minicomputers. Although mainframes perform an enormous amount of daily processing in organizations, the trend in the late 1980s and early 1990s was to migrate older systems and develop new ones to client/server architectures. In the simplest sense, client/server means storing the databases on servers and using the client workstations to access them (see client/server
A major incentive for downsizing to LANs was the wide availability of client/server applications and sources for purchasing PC hardware. Client workstations were mostly Windows-based PCs, and the servers were PCs running a version of Windows, NetWare or were a Sun, HP or IBM server running Unix and eventually Linux.
Although hardware costs may have been less than minicomputers and mainframes, many organizations discovered that maintenance costs for client/server architectures were considerably higher than expected. 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. Client/server systems, which replaced "legacy" mainframes, began to fall under the legacy umbrella themselves if they were not upgraded to use the Internet in some manner.
Networking is the lifeblood of an organization's high-tech infrastructure. Local applications combined with Internet applications and services continue to increase traffic and place heavy demands on the network. In addition, tying networks together when companies expand or merge is a daunting task for network administrators and IT managers. Since the mid-1990s, three networking trends have taken place: #1 - replacing Ethernet hubs with Ethernet switches, #2 - developing higher-speed backbones and #3 - switching to TCP/IP as the standard communications protocol.
Ethernet switches increase capacity by giving each pair of users the total bandwidth. They also allow for virtual LANs, which make network administration simpler. Network backbones are being upgraded to Gigabit Ethernet and 10 Gigabit Ethernet. TCP/IP, the protocol of the Internet, has become the standard transport method for local area networks (LANs). See enterprise networking
Groupware and Collaboration
Groupware lets users share and collaborate. The pioneering software was Lotus Notes, GroupWise and Microsoft Exchange, which included e-mail and tools such as document sharing and group calendaring and scheduling.
The Internet brought groupware into focus. Fueled by the ease with which HTML pages can be created and shared, organizations routinely publish millions of Web pages on their internal Web sites (intranets) with data extracted from corporate databases. Groupware evolved into Web 2.0 tools such as the wiki, which lets anyone edit what someone else writes. A collaboration component is now available in many software categories, enabling two or more people to write, draw and comment together in real time on a project.
As collaborative data grow, problems surface however. What happens when documents are distributed to remote servers? Which ones are the latest? Who keeps them up-to-date? What starts out as a simple method of electronically publishing internal documents winds up becoming a strategic information system requiring the same care and attention as the data processing systems deployed for decades. See groupware
and 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 $1,000 in 2013 U.S. dollars and entry-level machines for under $500. Technology seems to be a bargain. However, hardware costs are misleading, because requirements continue to increase as rapidly as costs decrease.
In almost every company, a user is attached to an internal network that is ever expanding. More Internet usage requires faster connections. The general complexity of networking means more inhouse expertise or third-party consulting. Although there is a vast amount of off-the-shelf software 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 a PC looks like chump change.
Half the Equation
This adage has been used in the computer field for decades but tells only one side of the story. Hardware may be cheap but custom programming and consulting are not.
End of hot topics.