Don't Turn Our Systems into Appliances

People say computers are too complex and too prone to security problems. These same people will often also say this is one of the reasons we don't have more broadband and general PC adoption. But don't worry. These people have a solution. They'll replace your hard-to-use and worm-infested computer with something that "just works," like your toaster. That's right! To take advantage of the next phase of the Internet, you won't need to deal with PCs and their incompatible hardware and plethora of operating systems and applications. That's because the next device you use to access the Internet will be an appliance, you know, like a refrigerator or a toaster. And what could be easier than that? Wow, that sounds great. And I'm sure it would work, if using the Internet and doing modern computing were as easy as toasting a piece of bread (though given the amount of burnt toast I've encountered in my life, maybe that isn't all that easy).

Jim Rapoza

People say computers are too complex and too prone to security problems. These same people will often also say this is one of the reasons we don't have more broadband and general PC adoption.

But don't worry. These people have a solution. They'll replace your hard-to-use and worm-infested computer with something that "just works," like your toaster.

That's right! To take advantage of the next phase of the Internet, you won't need to deal with PCs and their incompatible hardware and plethora of operating systems and applications. That's because the next device you use to access the Internet will be an appliance, you know, like a refrigerator or a toaster. And what could be easier than that?

Wow, that sounds great. And I'm sure it would work, if using the Internet and doing modern computing were as easy as toasting a piece of bread (though given the amount of burnt toast I've encountered in my life, maybe that isn't all that easy).

But the problem is, modern computing and the Internet aren't easy, static things. They are constantly changing and developing in new ways, and these changes and innovations are often brought about by people who are using their computers and the Internet in new and interesting ways.

However, if the appliance people get their way, this innovation will be replaced by locked-down devices that only have the features and capabilities that the vendors and their partners allow (and on the flip side will often have features that benefit the vendors and their partners but don't help the users).

I know, you think this is unlikely and will never happen. Well, guess what? Do you have an Internet-enabled phone, like an iPhone? Or maybe you have a gaming console with Internet access? Or even a DVR or entertainment console with Internet access? If you answered yes, then you are well on your way to locked-down Internet appliance time.

And if you've used one of these systems for any length of time, you've probably run into some frustration. I recently had an issue with my DVR, which had a new software "upgrade" pushed down that ended up disabling one of the tuners in my appliance. If this had been a PC, I could have chosen not to install the new version, and also would have had the option to roll back to an older version. But with this appliance I was stuck with the new software and had to find workarounds on the Web to bring my second tuner back.

This was annoying, but the biggest appliance fear I have is about cell phones. It can be hard to argue against the idea that in the not too distant future phones will replace PCs as the main way that people access the Internet.

And if the current generation of phones holds sway, this will be an Internet where regular people have much less control over and options for the software and features they allow or want on their Internet devices.

There is some hope with the forthcoming generation of open phone systems such as Google's Android and other Linux-based and open-source systems. But in the end it will be up to the carriers, and they like the way their current networks are free from any idea of neutrality.

So let's hope and fight against the move to convert our Internet devices into appliances. Because I don't want to see the idea of open computing and free Internet reduced to a burnt, charred piece of toast.