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Pervasive Computing

I don't want to carry my laptop around with me any longer. It doesn't matter that it's lighter or more powerful than the first boat-anchor DOS system I used to carry on flights in the late 1980s. It doesn't matter that the battery allows me to work several hours at a time. The fact is, I don't need the laptop; I need access to my data, an application interface that allows me to manage that data, and a connection to the Internet.

Pervasive computing is the idea that information should follow me and become available to me where and when I need it; securely, efficiently, completely, and timely. Very often the term "pervasive computing" is used synonymously with "ubiquitous computing," but there is a very real difference between computing and network resources that can be available anywhere and similar resources that are present everywhere. Hence, the different categories.

The pervasive computing category represents adoption patterns as much as it does enabling technologies. For the information that I require to be available where and when I need it, the work in many fields must culminate in fruitful solutions. In fact, we are beginning to realize the potential of pervasive computing, at least in western economies. For example, I was able to access my Sun-proprietary email account from anywhere in the world (given a reasonable Internet connection) since 1996, when I first used my Sun-issued DES Gold "enigma" card, which provided dynamic password access to a Sun employee portal designed specifically to enable mobile workplace interaction. My laptop also featured a virtual private network (VPN) capability that allowed an even finer granularity of access to proprietary information through the Sun wide area network (SWAN), as if I were sitting at a traditional workstation behind a traditional firewall.

Internet cafes began in 1995 with the advent of the browser (coincident with Netscape's initial public stock offering), when what had once been the domain of geeks (the Internet) became lodged in a general public zeitgeist. (This was due, I'm sure, to Netscape's dramatic capital market success; arguably, Netscape's coming-out party was the day the dotcom debacle began.) Despite the public misreading of the potential of the Internet during the late 1990s, the Internet continues to grow, Internet access continues to become more pervasive, and the era of pervasive computing continues to promise increasing productivity and material ephemeralization. The computer science challenges in this fitscape are almost entirely contained by other aspects of NDC, with technology adoption as the central issue.

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