Bring On the Appliances

There's more good than bad coming in the future of computing appliances.

Recently, my colleague, Jim Rapoza, expressed his concerns that today's relatively wide-open world of computing will give way to a future that's locked down and boxed away into convenient little appliances that perform simple, constrained tasks and that cannot be easily hacked. The PlayStationization of computing is nigh, and I say, bring it on.
Freewheeling, tweaked-to-the-gills, general-purpose computing is great, as long as the user of a given device has the desire, as well as the right, to exercise this sort of control. However, I believe that the vast majority of computer users fall into neither of these categories.
Most home users do not want to weigh which patches to apply to their consumer electronics, nor do they wish to puzzle over extensive customizations. When these users buy a piece of equipment and subscribe to a service, part of what they're paying for is having these choices made, expertly, by their vendor.
Most business users do not own the computers they use at work and do not own the data they use at work, either. Businesses need computer systems that enable employees to accomplish their tasks while shielding organizations from as much security liability as possible. I grant that a business PC that's
policy-constrained enough to amount to a computing appliance can limit innovation. Maybe the peer-to-peer collaboration application that your user wishes to install would be a great productivity booster. Then again, that nice-looking app might come with a keylogger riding shotgun.
Users will always prefer to ask for forgiveness rather than permission (and often wrongly expect that absolution is as easy as running a malware sweeper). So if it's possible for workers to accomplish their business tasks from within a sort of appliance sandbox, organizations shouldn't be afraid to seize this option.
Part of the problem with the appliance issue is that mainstream computing is still relatively immature, with a core user base that came up in a time when computers were more kit-like, with total control available to he or she who wielded the modeling glue. This vocal user core has managed to shout down some fundamentally sensible and worthwhile new technologies, such as Microsoft's Next-Generation Secure Computing Base, on the grounds that these projects might lock down PCs too tightly to tweak.
Computing appliances are the future, and this is a good thing. Now, before you kit-culture warriors start packing up your Dremel tools and heading for the hills, keep in mind that all the tweakability you desire is just a Web search away. Type in "open source [YOUR APP HERE]."
eWEEK Labs Executive Editor Jason Brooks is at [email protected]