What would it take to change computers? What would it take to build something truly revolutionary in a time where most of the design philosophy of a computer is taken for granted?
I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about ways to make computers better. Much of that thought is dedicated to software, but an equal amount of daydreaming is allocated to hardware. In my mind, the two go together like peas and carrots, ying and yang. A couple of years ago I wrote a college paper that talked about the UMPC market, which has now evolved into netbooks. I couldn’t stand the UMPC interface or hardware, but something about the idea of a very small, very portable computer appealed to me. Massive amounts of information, instantly available, wherever you are. I took the ideas of tablet PCs and UMPCs and designed something I called the FarmDog.
FarmDog was a tablet PC with an OS that ran off of a removable flash drive. The OS ran off of that drive, but all applications and user data resided on a hard drive, which was also removable. The idea was that you could keep your OS and your data completely separate, and also make it very, very easy to back up your system. Upgrading to a new operating system would involve buying a new chip from the store, shutting down the PC, putting in the new chip, and restarting the PC. You could switch between OS’s whenever you like, so if one is giving you problems you could go back to a previous revision.
A second part of the FarmDog was the dock. Normally, when you were running around with your PC, it acted as a tablet. However, when you put FarmDog in the dock (vertically, I didn’t imagine it being docked as a widescreen.) you had the setup of a regular desktop computer. Keyboard, mouse, etc… the main difference with the FarmDog dock was the automatic drive duplication. Now, we would probably want to implement something like Apple’s Time Machine, but at the time, I was thinking of duplicating the entire data drive to an external disk every time the PC was docked. This would keep a good backup of your applications and data, just in case.
I believe that the secret to a great consumer computer is a tight bond [between] software and hardware, coupled with great design in both. Apple has this just about nailed with their new MacBooks, but I’m still left wondering, how could we build something better, something different. I think FarmDog could be the start of something, I just wish I had the funds to build it.