Several years ago, Intel founding member Andy Grove formulated a concept called the software spiral. In this vision, a never ending spiral is created of faster computing hardware driving ever increasing performance in software. In turn more advanced software drives innovation for increasing performance in hardware. And the spiral continues with hardware and software continuing to push the limits of capabilities with each new generation.
In the early days of wide spread PC proliferation this spiral was very evident. Applications as well as operating system changes were drastic and obvious. The same was to be said for the leaps in hardware performance. Each generation bringing significant performance and capabilities to the user experience. Anyone remember the 386 to 486 days and DOS to Windows?
So in today’s technology realm, does the spiral still exist? Yes it does, but I believe it can be looked upon in four distinct areas; semiconductor hardware, PC’s, Servers and Handhelds.
Semiconductor hardware continues to push the performance envelope and is on a steady cadence to deliver new enhancements like clockwork. At Intel, we still track to Moore’s law where the transistor density count and thus the performance double around every 12-18 months. Continued hardware improvements open the door for the software community to create more feature rich applications. Virtual learning, interactive learning, speech recognition and translation are just a few that are utilizing the performance gains in hardware.
PC’s, contrary to believe are not dead and still the leading platform for performance, innovation and software capabilities. PC’s now and many years into the future will still offer the most capable hardware combined with the largest array of full featured software applications. PC’s, whether laptop or desktop will continue to offer the widest range of form factors, performance capabilities and applications now and for many generations to come.
Handhelds are the up and rising platform in the computing world these days. Tablets and mobile phones continue to rise in platform performance and capabilities. More applications are being developed to enhance the user experience along with new usage models with this form factor. The handheld space looks and mirrors the explosive growth that was seen in the PC industry 20+ years ago. Multiple operating systems, multiple form factors, multiple manufactures and an army of software developers aimed at delivering solutions for targeting this exciting new platform. It is anticipated that this segment will start to mature and stabilize around 2015.
Servers on the backend are often overlooked, but they are at the heart of the software spiral. Data, services, infrastructure are all required to feed the hungry appetites of today’s PC’s and mobile devices. Today’s servers are more than up to the task and growing at a rapid rate in performance to meet the increasing demands of data served to clients. Advances in software deliver applications on demand, capture data and analyze information all driving the software spiral forward.
So is the software spiral dead? I think not, if anything it is accelerated more than ever in today’s world with the rapid pace of innovation.
What does this mean for education? An increasing complex array of hardware, software and services to extend the capabilities of teaching and learning platforms beyond today’s standards. Form factors will continue to change and evolve as some of the technology matures and stabilizes. When planning it is important to understand current and future teaching, learning and administration requirements to choose the best platform for the task at hand.