New times, new concepts

Enrique Dans. Professor. IE Business School

7 September 2009

The concept we have had of computers to date is set to disappear under a landslide of Internet realities that offer a new way of working online.

Google´s announcement of its project to launch an operating system, Google Chrome OS, is not just another announcement in the hyperactive wasteland of technology news. The announcement is something more than that. It is a change of concept that affects the definition of a computer and what we do with it. Something that is going to change the way we work.

For many years now a computer has been the machine used to do the same things that were done without it, only more quickly and more efficiently. The word processor was a post-modern typewriter that produced results that were aesthetically better in less time by separating the composition process from the printing process. The spreadsheet was a "calculator on steroids", which avoided the sequential repetition of chains of operations by placing them on coordinates. A bookkeeping or salary application was the fast way to tackle a monthly task that was both tedious and repetitive. For workers, a computer was a machine they used for doing the same thing, but more quickly. And to do that, they needed hardware, an operating system and the right applications. Last century´s computing system: buy a computer, which comes with a large, heavy operating system "that has everything" (including a computer and a game of solitaire!) and then buy the programmes you need to "do things".

Nowadays, computers are something else. Their basic component is not the memory or the hard drive, but rather the Internet connection. If that doesn´t work, you might as well pack up and go home because "the computer doesn´t work". The actual computer may work perfectly well, but without an Internet connection it simply has no sense. The computer has become a window to the Internet and it has taken on all shapes and sizes. It has mutated into a laptop, a netbook, a smart phone... all of which are devices for connecting to the Internet and doing things depending on the interface they offer.

Nowadays, if you write a document with one of the "old" word processors and, when you finish, you send the file to a colleague for him or her to complete or change, you know that you will be revealing that you are a Cro-Magnon man. The mere process of sending a copy of the document by e-mail is a mistake. Because you don´t want to send a copy and then have two unnecessary copies of the document that evolve independently, but rather you want to send a link to the same document and, with the right kind of control for tracking changes, work with it. You want to share it, with each person writing on a different part of it in real time and, when it is finished, publish it on the Internet or send it to its end user. And throughout this process, you want to be able to work from your home computer, your work computer, a friend´s computer, a hotel computer, your laptop or mobile telephone you don’t want any problems caused by where the document actually is. This is the Internet working as a process, a medium for your work, with totally insignificant operating systems that start up in seconds and let you access all your work, share it with others and file it more securely than on a computer that can be stolen or lost. It is a new concept we need to start getting used to because it has unquestionable advantages.

When Google announces its operating system, it will announce the end of last century´s computing system and the arrival of a new way of working. When you tell someone that you cannot show them a document because it is on your office or home computer, you are telling him that you are a Cro-Magnon man because documents no longer live on a hard drive: they live on the Internet and the Internet can be accessed from anywhere. With its Linux-based operating system, Google takes an important step forward in the way we understand our relationship with computers and the Internet. New times and new concepts for businesses and professionals to step up their activity on the basis of a universe of possibilities without the trials, tribulations and limitations of the old system. If you don´t change the way you work, don´t say we didn´t warn you.


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