Plug computing has arrived, in fact it's been arriving for a while now, but has yet to capture major consumer attention. Pogoplug is attempting to grab that attention for itself, with the introduction of a much sexier-looking and consumer-oriented device than before, and a website that even attempts to explain what the thing is, which is more than you can say for other plug computing sites.
So, what's it all about? The plug computer is a full-blown PC in a box about the size of a power adapter, and it plugs right into a wall socket in the same way as a power adapter does. It uses about a tenth of the power needed to run a desktop computer, making it almost free to run for the average home user, it's cool, and is a fair bit cheaper to buy, too.
Inside the box is an ARM processor running at 1.2Ghz, which is about netbook speed, though the nature of the chip is such that it should be more powerful than the equivalent you find in notebooks and laptops. There's a half-gigabyte of memory, a half gigabyte of storage, and the device runs on Linux (Microsoft were unavailable for comment but are believed to be well p*ssed).
I'm currently typing this on a notebook PC that isn't quite as powerful as one of these, and six or seven years ago it cost about $3000. The plug computers are set to sell for around $50 in a year or two, though at present prices are around $99.
The plug has an ethernet socket for connecting a cable to your home network, and a USB socket to connect external drives. No wi-fi - yet - but watch this space.
So what's the point, I hear you ask. The answer may get you all flushed with excitement, especially if you're an entertainment freak, because a plug computer is capable of being configured as a home server, and the software and service provided by the manufacturer will allow you to access all the media files on your home network from any computer in your home, and from any computer anywhere on the internet, anywhere in the world. Attach an external USB drive - currently a terabyte is fairly affordable and is going to store hundreds of movies and thousands of music tracks and hundreds of thousands of photos - and you can access them from anywhere with an internet connection.
At the present, that's likely to be the major application that will be sold to consumers, but the potential for developers goes way beyond this. After all, this is a complete computer, minus input devices, for fifty bucks. String ten of them together, and they're still only consuming the same power as a single conventional server and only occupying a couple of household power strips. They can be used as web servers, enabling you to run your own website from home, or proxy servers, allowing you to cache webpages for high-speed retrieval, or dedicated firewalls to protect your network. You can use one to connect to a webcam, which can then be accessed anywhere in the world, without having to pay for extra third-party services.
If you're into file sharing, you can give anyone you choose permission to access your plug, and hence the files you want to share, from anywhere in the world. Share all your family photo albums, for example, and even have the software mail your family members any time you add new photos. Share your files on social networking sites, with automatic updates. The Pogoplug service gives you a free account which allows you to have multiple external USB drives connected to multiple plugs; with memory becoming cheap, and the plugs themselves likely to fall in price, anyone can have the equivalent of a major commercial web server or file server for just a couple of hundred bucks.
A terabyte (1000 gigabytes) of music on your smartphone or web-enabled device? Sure. You have iTunes on your phone? The plug will give your iTunes library a boost by several thousand tunes, if you like.
Beyond these ideas, lie many more. A computer plugged into your home power might regulate your lighting and heating, using webcams to monitor movement and save power in empty rooms; the plug may be the device that finally makes control of household devices, once believed likely to be the main use of home computers, a reality at last. You'll just have to remember not to confuse one with a power plug and unplug it to plug your vacuum cleaner in.
Aside from the Pogoplug people, other manufacturers are seemingly interested only in developers and theoretical possibilities. What websites there are, aren't really consumer-oriented at all. But that won't last, I'm sure. The plug is a device in search of a killer app that the public can respond to, it's only a matter of time. Meanwhile, Pogoplug is offering a taste of things to come.
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