Matt Smith's End of the Spectrum

Melbourne-based writer and journalist. Purveyor of finally crafted radio plays. A Muppet of a man.

Office has-beens replaced by wow factor

First published in the Sydney Morning Herald on October 30th, 2012.

The world is fast going digital. Office technology is advancing rapidly, driven by the desire or need for convenience, efficiency and portability. Cheaper costs and tech enthusiasts have helped litter our work spaces with advanced devices that at times generate as many additional tasks as they eliminate.

Gone are the days of the typewriter. The 3.5 inch floppy disk is a distant memory. Try and remember the last time you burnt data onto a CD.

Even some of the more recent technological gadgets are going the way of the dinosaur. Here are some that will soon be a distant memory.

USB flash drive

The relatively recent alternative to CDs, DVDs and floppy disks, USB flash drives (or thumbdrives) are already becoming obsolete.

Cloud technology – when your data is stored on remote servers and can be accessed anywhere – is rapidly making flash drives outdated. These services provide virtual storage space for large amounts of data, and open collaboration on files.

“I couldn’t tell you the last time I used a USB drive,” says Dr James Bromberg, chief technology officer at MetaCDN, a cloud-based content delivery network. “We are prolific users of Dropbox, which we use to share documents among our team.”

“I can start editing a document at the office and finish it at home without even thinking about whether I have access to the file, and I never have to worry about it being the latest version.”

Services such as Dropbox, Apple iCloud, Microsoft’s Skydrive and Google Drive are the popular providers, and each have different benefits depending on devices and software in use.

Most cloud storage services such as Dropbox and Google Drive also allow users some degree of offline access to their files, making a USB flash drive unnecessary.

“Dropbox has won over many users with its broad platform support and ease of use, so it probably still represents the best bet for many consumers,” says Dr Bromberg.

Keyboard and mouse

Adapted from typewriters, the computer keyboard is a stayer. The version we use in English-speaking countries – the QWERTY layout – has been in use since the 1870s. Then it prevented typewriters from jamming while today it provides familiarity.

So much so that while technology may develop beyond having physical keyboards in the workplace, the QWERTY layout is still present on tablets and smartphones.

The mouse, however, is on borrowed time thanks to touchscreen pinch and swipe technologies and voice dictation.

Perhaps the next step forward for the office is the release of devices such as the upcoming Leap. Developed by Leap Motion, it promises to bring the motion capture functionality seen in the Xbox Kinect video game console directly to the desktop computer.

Due to be released early next year, the anticipation for Leap is great. The company announced they have received more than 40,000 developer applications so far.

Desktop computers

Desktop computers are also being redefined. The late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs boldly proclaimed the post-PC era had begun when he unveiled the iPad. He wasn’t far off.

There’s a lot to be said about having a staid, stay-put computer that is powerful and customisable, but thin clients (computers that hold very little under your desk, connecting to the company’s servers for storage), laptops, tablets and smartphones are redefining computing. Particularly among those whose jobs involve hot-desking, constant travel or countless meetings.

Collaboration is also likely to drive the choice of hardware in future. Table-computing is one example of a device that may foster teamwork.

Microsoft has had two goes at table-computing in recent years.

Smart Services CRC, a technology company headquartered in Sydney, believes table-computing is key to collaboration. Its Tabletop Surface software allows users to share and edit content at the same time on a touchscreen.

“There’s a big advantage in this technology,” says Dr Anthony Collins, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Sydney, who began designing the Tabletop software as a research project. “People find the gestures and actions really intuitive and in our usability studies they quickly learnt the basic concepts to manipulate.” The software supports multiple operating systems and hardware.

He said the real estate industry and the Australian Museum were early adopters of the technology. The university is now working on adding gesture command to tables and walls, using Xbox Kinect.

“There’s a big wow factor behind the technology, and people are notably engaged,” Dr Collins said.


One comment on “Office has-beens replaced by wow factor

  1. Will
    November 20, 2012

    Desktops, keyboards, and mice wont disappear completely. There are still things that keyboards and mice do better. Gestures and actions may not be possible for some tasks, and touchscreens will result in grubby screens obstructed by our own hands. What this paradigm shift in what ‘computing’ has changed to become an avenue of enablement for less tech-savvy users to step up and use computers as “retail outlets”. Instead of being productivity tools computers are now entertainment, music, and online shopping outlets, as is the result of being brought to the mainstream. The thing is all of these technologies can (and must) coexist.

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