Liquid Computing

Welcome to the next tech revolution: Liquid computing

The Handoff feature in iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite is the first taste of truly contextual computing

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Although Handoff is a deeper move into liquid computing, both Google and Apple have taken a baby step already in that direction: Thanks to browser syncing for password, URLs, and so on, users have grown accustomed to the notion that it doesn't matter what device they have at hand -- they can do whatever they were doing and even pick up where they left off, at least for Web activities.

That's the fundamental notion of liquid computing: Your activities, not just your data, flow from device to device. You might think that's simply cloud computing in action -- it is -- but Handoff shows you don't need the cloud to do this: It uses Bluetooth and Wi-Fi Direct for iOS devices and Macs to "notice" each other's presence, then compare notes as to what the user is doing on all nearby devices for which that user is signed in. That's Handoff, and it's much more powerful than simply making the same data available everywhere.

Apple may be leading this transformation, but it's not alone. The forthcoming Android L will support Handoff-like interactions between Android devices and Chrome OS computers. Of the main platform vendors, Microsoft is the least advanced in the move to liquid computing, though it talks the talk and has made moves similar to Apple and Google in its syncing across Windows 8 devices and its Google-like mix of native and cloud apps for cloud-stored Office documents.

Businesses will have to toss out their management and compliance notions
When you no longer have to worry about where a file is or where you left off on a task, you'll work very differently than you do today.

People who've adopted an iCloud-centered workflow, a Google-centered workflow, or an Office 365-centered workflow know what I mean: You don't think about where files are, because they're wherever you have an Internet connection. You think much less about passwords and bookmarks, thanks to Apple's and Google's ability to remember them across devices, which means it's easier to take care of your needs wherever and whenever.

That wherever and whenever, of course, freaks out most IT shops. After all, most still can't accept that people work on devices at home and on the road that aren't under full control of IT, using a standard image, and fully audited. Wait till being able to do whatever wherever becomes a natural activity for employees. If their work systems don't work the same way, they'll avoid or bypass them even more.

There is no way to audit such ad hoc workflows that traverse devices and don't need to go through a common network. Without auditing, you can neither assure compliance, nor really manage security. Ultimately, we'll have to let go of those notions for the vast majority of data and workflows, using other means to validate access and information checkin/checkout and worrying less about what happens in between.

There are a few glimpses of how compliance and data management will work in a liquid computing world, but only glimpses. Users will again lead the way and introduce liquid computing even as their iT organizations rail against now-quaint notions like BYOD. IT and regulators will either figure it out or again get ignored or even pushed out of the way.

I truly believe that liquid computing will result in a major shift in how we work and think about computing devices. There'll be mistakes and failure along the way, but the basic notion simply makes too much sense. After all, it's how people naturally work: We "sync" and adapt through communications, even when under a hierarchical organization, using the tools we can find, not just those given to us.

When computing works more like us, watch out!

This article, "Welcome to the next tech revolution: Liquid computing," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Smart User blog. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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