Mobility Problems

I’ve never really been a gadget guy. Sure, they’re interesting, and fun, but I’ve never been comfortable slogging them around with me wherever I go. But despite my best efforts, I’ve managed to accumulate quite a few: wireless phone, Treo, digital camera, mp3 players (plural!), USB drives, and laptops. Don’t even get me started on all the different types of cables I need to carry.

I don’t know about anyone else, but for me, all this mobility and connectivity is creating as many problems as it solves. Data management, synchronization, and integrity seem like harder problems than the one they replaced (access to applications).

The biggest problem is mail. Not the mail itself, because IMAP does a reasonable job of providing universal access to my mail, but all the other stuff that goes along with mail: my address book, sent-mail folder, vcard, and GPG key. These things are just as important — or maybe even more important — as my actual mail. If I use thunderbird at work, and mutt at home, and gmail at my friends’ houses, and a Treo on the bus, how do they all share this information?

I recently stopped using GPG, after 4 years, for exactly this reason. In order to have ubiquitous access to my email, I had to give up using GPG, since I don’t want to have my keys on machines I don’t fully control. For a while I was using portable thunderbird, from a USB drive, but that meant I was shackled to Windows. I wanted the option to use Gmail when I needed to, and mutt when I could.

Ian Murdock has some interesting ideas on the subject, and his conclusions parallel mine:

My prediction: Applications will increasingly move to the web, so you’ll be able to get to your data anytime, anywhere, and from any connected device. No surprise there. But the majority of the time, when you’re using “your” client device (whether it’s a PC in your home or office or a handheld device or something that lives on a USB key and securely attaches to the network via some device that’s outside of your administrative control), you’ll still primarily interact with the web through a fat client of some sort.

Ian’s assuming a “fat client”, and I’m seeing more and more thinner clients. My worry is not about my data (I’ve got that tucked away on various sites and can access is from anywhere) but about what’s not being shared between these applications.

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1 comment so far

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