There is one essential way that computers and the Internet have changed our society that, even now, few people truly grasp and understand. As the price of storage has come down, we save more and more of the data we produce. After all, why would you delete anything when you could just spend $40 and get another 100 gigabyte hard drive? The same goes for big companies, too. As the cost of storage has gone down, they’ve had less and less incentive to delete information about the people they’ve done business with. In fact, new data mining techniques make that data potentially very valuable. What happens, then, if everything you do online, every email you write, every purchase you make, and every website you visit gets recorded somewhere for several years or even forever. But even more than that, as security cameras become more and more common your movements are recorded, too, and the companies and governments that do the recording may keep those videos as long as they want. That is the world we live in today, but the implications of this reality are not well understood.
About three weeks ago, T-Mobile launched the first phone running Android, Google’s new, open-source cell phone operating system. A quick search will turn up lots of reviews of this phone and the OS, so if you want a review, go read one of those. I’m more interested in talking about why Android is a Big Deal™. The phone itself (known as the G1) is pretty good, I’ve been using it for about two weeks and liked it, but the phone is not what’s revolutionary, it’s the software. Most people are pretty used to making a distinction between their computer and the software the runs on it (Windows, Firefox, etc.), but that’s not something that we think about with our cellphones. Truthfully, most people probably still won’t make that distinction. But as more and more phones fall into the category of smart phones (like the BlackBerry, iPhone, and G1), we’re likely to see the market center around two or three operating systems for cell phones just like we’ve seen with PCs and laptops. But Walker, you ask, what’s so cool about Android?
A major Internet catastrophe was narrowly averted recently through the combined efforts of security researchers and large companies like Cisco and Microsoft. Not all the details of the problem have been released yet and those that have are rather esoteric, but I’ll do my best to explain them in layman’s terms. Also, before I get started, I want to do something I don’t do often: thank Microsoft for showing strong leadership on this and providing resources to ensure that the problem got fixed for everyone. So if you’re interested in hearing an exciting story about a race to save the Internet, read on!