I recently wrote a blog on the emerging innovations in user interfaces that are being inspired by video game players. I called them 3rd Generation User Interfaces or 3GUI. I ended the blog by observing that while these innovations are enabled by advanced technologies, like the Cell processor jointly developed by IBM, Sony and Toshiba for the PlayStation 3, their real impact will be in the many different kinds of new applications that will be created based on the visual interfaces, real- time interactivity and massive collaboration found in the gaming world.
I'm returning to the topic because this week IBM, Sony and Toshiba announced that they are making public a wide set of the Cell processor's technical specifications to stimulate the creation of Cell-based applications and expand a thriving community of interest and innovation around Cell - a community of software developers, business partners, academic and research organizations, as well as potential customers. A good summary of the information being released can be found here. This may seem to be very technical stuff, interesting to only a small community, but the impact is far broader.
User interface paradigms, by which I mean the total interaction between people and computers, have a profound impact on the way we think about applications. Usually, people get "stuck" in the existing paradigms, settling for incremental advances in the old ways of doing things. But then, one day we reach an inflection point and our whole way of thinking about applications changes. We are propelled into a qualitatively new way of looking at the world and of taking advantage of all the accumulated and previously "stuck" technology advances. Let me give two examples.
In the 1970's the switch from batch to interactive computing was such a change. It is hard to imagine a world, where you submitted your job to the computer and then waited patiently for several minutes or even several hours for its completion. Once interactive computing took hold and you could complete simple jobs in seconds, all kinds of new transactional applications, like airline reservation, ATM and ERP systems appeared, and are now part of the fabric of society.
This blog is another example. I am writing it using my ThinkPad, constantly looking things up and linking to pages in the World Wide Web. These capabilities have been available to the vast majority of people for only the last ten years, yet it is hard to imagine what the world was like before we had an Internet and WWW, powerful laptops like my ThinkPad, as well as GUIs and browsers through which to interact with it all.
As IT is now becoming embedded all around us, with vast amounts of computing capacity, storage and information at our fingertips, it is no longer enough to put better user interfaces on computers. We don't want the machines to be visible, we don't want to be surrounded by computers at all, we want the computers to disappear into the consumer appliances, cars, and entertainment of our daily lives, as well as into the business, government, and health care processes that we deal with. We want the technology to make the world a much better place for us all, but we want it to continue to be a familiar, human-like world.
That is why we are all so excited about the promise of this new generation of game-inspired user interfaces and technologies. We have already seen the creation of some pretty spectacular virtual worlds around games. Now we can't wait to see what will happen not only with the next generation of game applications, but more important with applications in business, entertainment, science, engineering, health care, education and just about every other area, especially as powerful and inexpensive technologies like the Cell processor become available.
We need to be as innovative and revolutionary as we were in the previous transitions to interactive computing and the Internet and WWW. By making the Cell specifications available to any and all, we have an opportunity to reach out to this new generation and give them a new set of tools with which to create this new world. And it's important to note that we're not just "releasing documents". Last year, for example, we launched our Power.org initiative, which I wrote about in a recent blog, to bring open collaboration to the world of systems hardware and microprocessor design, complementing similar such open software initiatives like Linux, Grid Computing and eclipse.org.
Working as a community encompassing a broad collection of experts we can liberate our minds to help unleash a whole new paradigm for thinking about the next generation of applications and create a thriving market for innovation around them.