Saturday, September 5, 2009

Life with Ariel: The World of Real-Time Content Defines Today's PCs

After a day or so of tweaking, software downloading and restoring files from my JungleDisk network backup drive, Ariel has come to life in full. The fourth of a series of Dell Latitude laptop PCs that I have used (we'll forget that Compaq that I had for a corporate job), Ariel is the third unit I've owned named after archangels, a small but welcome comfort when I have need of a machine that can deliver some assurance to a hard-working road warrior. The processing power of this ES6400 model and its solid-state RAM drive certainly help Ariel to deliver those assurances. Having been out of the PC purchasing loop for several years, now, though, I must say that Ariel is representative of a new place in the content hierarchy for PCs than former units that I have owned, more a waystation than a destination in the stream of real-time content going and coming from a myriad of inputs and outputs.

The edges and guts of Ariel are bristling with interfaces to all kinds of content sources and outputs. An SD card slot on the front for camera and mobile media, a Firewire port and four USB ports for high-speed serial connections, one of which doubles as an eSATA port for high-volume storage units, high-definition video output port and a plain old LAN connector. Inside are wireless cards for WiFi, broadband, GPS and for Bluetooth-enabled devices. A CD-DVD drive is there for legacy media and storage, while the slot for the analog modem finally said goodbye. In other words, this machine is more like a switchboard for the galaxy of content sources and output devices surrounding it than a little walled garden unto itself. The fact that I have oodles of disk space is not as important as the peta-oodles of storage and processing available in the networks surrounding Ariel.

The notion of PCs as switchboards and waystations for content is underscored by the main reason that I finally decided to spring for a new unit. My old unit was fine for browsing the Web and office automation tasks, but it groaned at the memory and processing required to produce video content. A new webcam that I purchased, able to produce high-definition video, was just not up to the task, complicated by a USB interface that was underpowered for processing video. Ariel is more than up to these tasks, equipped with its own tiny webcam to boot and a screen that is proportioned perfectly for video presentations. In a world in which video and other multimedia are beginning to become the focus of more mobile content than ever before - wait for a new generation of powerful mobile phones next year that will accelerate this trend signifcantly - PCs are becoming more of a filtering and production platform for sophisticated content that is consumed on other platforms oftentimes.

The other key factor that Ariel's power underscores is the depth and breadth of real-time information sources that it's able to handle. Dozens of browser tabs are no sweat for Ariel to manage, with streams from Twitter, email, videos humming along while I chug along on word processing, spreadsheets, graphics and slide presentations. Its dual-core CPU processor is designed to maximize the efficiency of multi-process computing, a capability that's underused via the Windows XP operating system loaded on to Ariel but a help nevertheless. This is power that used to be available only in the trading rooms of investment banks consuming hundreds of real-time information resources to make split-second decisions on securities.

With affordable multiple screen displays and larger displays becoming more common in both office and home computing to consume all of this information, our desktop and laptop computing capabilities are starting to focus on the types of benefits that used to be the focus of only a handful of securities traders. Integration of multiple content sources to help people attain the benefits of real-time computing power is going to become only more important as machines like Ariel begin to dominate the PC end of content production and consumption. With video and multimedia sources an increasingly important part of this real-time stream, the winners in publishing will the those who are able to understand the integration and collaboration requirements for people consuming information in ever more immediate decision-making cycles.

The other factor that's highlighted by Ariel's strengths is the constancy of content consumption in today's online environment. I settled for batteries that could keep Ariel going for about ten or twelve hours without recharging, but I could have opted for an even larger add-on unit that could have extended its off-cord power to eighteen hours. High-power mobile smart phones and smartbooks are about to enter this realm soon also, with the ability to power video, Web browsing and other content-intense applications for days between recharging. This "always on" culture of content production and consumption is leaving fewer and fewer gaps for people to consider alternative forms of publishing.

As emerging technologies such as Google Wave make instant content sharing and collaboration more immediate and global than ever before, the world of real-time content is going to produce even more emphasis on instant awareness and consensus-building through publishing services. While the world has not become Wall Street, in some ways the content marketing concepts - and challenges - that shaped financial markets with new generations of technologies in previous decades are becoming the baseline of how most enterprise and consumer publishers will have to adjust to content markets in the years ahead.

Immediacy is not just important, but essential to the process of making good decisions. Sophisticated analytics are needed to help people make sense of a myriad of real-time inputs and related archives. Sophisticated networks are needed to help people collaborate rapidly on high-value opportunities and to execute on those opportunities cost-effectively. All of this requires sophisticated and affordable cloud infrastructure that will enable these services to scale cost-effectively and to minimize technology investments in markets that reward rapid adoption of new technology advantages. Look no further than to companies like Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters to understand the full cycle of changes that will be required for your own markets if you plan to survive and to thrive in the years ahead as real-time information changes your own markets.

So here I go, off to a new era of slugging it out with my keyboard, mouse and webcam to produce and consume content in real-time more productively than ever before. I am glad to have Ariel as my new road warrior compadre. My travel bag will be a lot lighter thanks to all of its built-ins and my life will be more content-centric and real-time than ever. I hope that's a good thing.
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