email to 1997

Wed 17 February 2021



X-TimeMail-When: Fri, 5 Dec 1997 12:00:00 -0800 (PST)

Subject: I'm you from the future! You've got to read this!!

First of all, if you're reading this, awesome! This means someone was able to figure out how to send emails back in time! Don't ask me any more details, it's not been done yet in the year of 2021… I hope to give enough personal details to guarantee you that this is not a prank… I'll keep this focused on the state of our technological world. There would be too much to cover otherwise…

If I remember correctly, you had your first Compuserve internet about a year ago, then had a bunch of issues and switched to a local ISP called Aurec Video Online (I really hope I got my timing right and sent this to the right email/date). You had your old 14.4k ISA modem destroyed by the storm and will be using a US Robotics 56k modem for a few years more… It shouldn't be too surprising to you that we now have permanent high speed Internet. It's not uncommon to have 1GBit/s lines, mine is 400MBit/s.

You know "PDAs"? They are going to get big! We call them smartphones now and they also have their own high speed internet, which you can use outdoors as long as you have a wireless network coverage. Those smartphones have become the most used devices worldwide. They also can do a lot! They can take high definition photos and videos, few people still use actual cameras or camcorders. The smartphones have no keyboard (at least most of them don't), they are controlled by a tactile glass screen that supports multi touch. Because all the interaction are touch based, programs (we call them apps now) have become simpler and more user-friendly. We also have a lot of "Web Apps". Those are programs that you can use from a web page, made with HTML and Netscape JavaScript version 6. NetScape, btw, no longer exist. It's been bought by AOL. Navigator will become Mozilla in a few months from now and will then become Firefox a few years later. The place to get the current JavaScript documentation is still the Mozilla website.

The most popular vendor of smartphones is Apple, the PowerPC Mac company. They have since dropped the PowerPC, started making Intel powered Macs, then made their phones with RISC ARM CPUs. Now they are dropping Intel CPUs from their Macs and starting to make their own RISC chips! Given the same clock speed, they are incredibly faster than Intel CPUs. But you already know that, right? While this sounds very attractive, the problem with Apple is that their whole ecosystem has become very locked down. You have to pay $100 to get your program on the "Apple Store". There is no admin access to the phones, you have to go through a process called "jailbreak" to have one, it voids the warranty and I'm not even sure if it's possible to do on recent devices. Mac computers have become more and more difficult to repair and Apple tries to limit who is authorised to do so to their own Apple Stores. It's basically everything you hate the most about technology except you didn't think it would come from Apple…

It may sound like a big shock but I no longer have a big problem with Microsoft anymore. (Notice how I didn't write Micro$oft?). The fact that I haven't used Windows in 16 years maybe helps! But Microsoft has also improved a lot! Bill Gates is going to get replaced by Steve Ballmer soon and he'll be much worse than Gates on the anti-linux discourse! Eventually he will retire and become the owner of the LA Clippers… His replacement, called Nadella, isn't anti-Linux and sees the power behind open source for reasons I'll explain later. (The term "Open Source" will be coined next year, but it's basically the same principle as Linux where you have the source code for everything, can change it and compile it yourself.) Microsoft starts releasing a bunch of their software as open source. Visual Studio still exists but there is a lighter version called Visual Studio Code that is a "Web App" that is made to look like a desktop program. It is pretty slow and it uses a lot of RAM but computers have become so powerful that it's barely noticeable. I know this will make you rage and make you say that everything should be coded in Assembly but hey, Assembly is hard and not portable! This technique makes it possible to have Visual Studio on Linux!

Going back to why Microsoft has been so involved with Open Source, it's the internet again. Linux has become the dominant platform for servers of all kind. Microsoft now competes with the online book store and a search engine called Google (it will open next year and eventually replace Altavista) in what we now call "Cloud computing". The cloud is basically a layer above servers that let users use them without having to manage the servers themselves. This extends even to consumers who now use "the cloud" to store their files online instead of storing them on their hard drives. Microsoft Office's main competitor is a JavaScript "Web App" from the search engine Google. It doesn't store documents on a hard drive and will let multiple persons edit documents at the same time from different computers. Microsoft Office also has its own cloud based web app that works the same way. Speaking of Microsoft, you thought "Windows 95" was a stupid version name? Have a peak at the future: 98, 98 Second Edition, Me, 2000, XP, Vista, 7, 8, 8.1, 10... There is no 9 because of Windows 95/98 that start with 9 :-D

But that's only a portion of what Google, Amazon and Microsoft are after. Most websites in the world are now using cloud services from those companies to host their websites. What helped Linux become so important is that the desktop was no longer the primary focus, the web was. This has gone to a point where Microsoft is now one of the biggest contributors to the Linux kernel and sponsors a variety of Linux conferences! Linux is also widely popular on phones (smartphones) and pretty much any device that isn't a desktop or laptop computer. The main competitor to Apple on the smartphone market is Google again with its Linux based Android OS. Unlike Apple who keeps exclusivity of their system on their hardware, Android is available to any company like Samsung, Sony or Motorola who make their own phones with their own customizations. Despite being Linux based, Android phones are much harder to access and customize than Linux computers and it requires some complicated manipulations to gain root access.

Even if it's not the most popular system on desktop computers (which are now all just PCs and Mac… Amiga and BeBox didn't make it), Linux has improved greatly. It is possible to install a Linux system in less than 15 minutes from a small drive that plugs in a USB port. There is free and open software for every domain so you can just download professional software for 3D modeling, digital painting or audio production in a few clicks! We also have video games on Linux, with software capable of running games for Windows. We have a graphical language called Vulkan that is so low level that is can be used to rewrite other graphical libraries like Direct3D. I don't want to spoil too much but you get to play a role in Linux as a gaming platform! Linux as a whole has become such a powerful environment that it not only allows me to have a job but also use it to keep my digital life in control. I can assure you that you won't miss the Amiga! Sure, Slackware was rough and not very pretty when you tried it, but it will get better!

On thing that helped popularize the usage of Linux to the general public are "Single Board Computers". They are tiny computers the size of a credit card or even smaller, the size of a lighter for some. They usually cost between $10 and $50, can run a Linux system and are very popular for emulation. They take small disks that are the size of a fingernail and can store 64GB or more that cost $12! One of my latest purchases was a Game Boy case that takes one of those mini-computers in the cartridge slot and can run arcade, Super Nintendo, Playstation games! Before using the board as a game console, I was using it as a network bridge to connect from the Internet to my LAN! The latest one to be released has everything in its keyboard and yes, its creator said he was inpired by the Amiga 600.

Our most powerful components of our computers are now the graphic cards. To give you an idea, my current one has 8GB of RAM, can go up to 1.7GHz, and to put it simply, is able to handle 2300 computations in parallel. Current graphic cards are starting to be able to do real time ray tracing, It's not full scene real time ray tracing, just the reflections, so don't get too excited but it's still real time ray tracing. Our graphic cards now handle a lot more than just displaying graphics in games and working on 3D renderings. GPUs are used in artificial intelligence, in computer vision and any kind of calculation heavy application.

One of those GPU heavy applications is cryptocurrency, virtual currentcies that are generated through a process called "mining" that computes "blocks" on a "blockchain" that can then ensure transactions are unique and verified. Those currencies are not widely accepted as a payment method and the process of mining consumes as much energy as the whole country of Switzerland and is one of the reasons why there are GPU shortages…

If Apple controls most of the consumer hardware and cloud providers host most content on the internet, there is a new type of company: social media platforms. Those platforms provide a way for people to publish content in a very simple manner, through a web page. In some ways they could be compared to newsgroups. Those platforms also have their own limitations. For example, one of them only allows to publish messages that are at most 280 characters long and can contain no more than 4 photos. Despite those limitations, this has become on of the main communication media. While computers are just as obscure in 2021 as they were in 1997 for most people, they have become present in most aspects of our lives. Most people have a machine in their pocket that is more powerful than the computer you will have in 10 years!

Everything is designed for extreme convienience. We can watch movies and series with online services. We can get access to almost all music ever made through digital platforms. We can get any type of car we want to drive us anywhere in a matter of minutes just by tapping a few buttons on a glass screen. We order food from all the restaurants in your city and have them deliver at your door. We also get your groceries done for us and delivered at your door. The "bookstore" Amazon can now ship almost any popular item to anywhere in the States in 2 days max.

I could keep going a lot more but there's already so much information to process, I have no idea what you could do with it. Also, I have the feeling that if I start mentioning things like Trump's presidency, QAnon, COVID19, X Æ A-12 or 4chan, you may start to question the veracity of this message… There's no final warning or anything. This is just a message in a time-bottle… There's a lot packed in this email. In the unlikely event that time travelling email becomes possible and you somehow receive this message, I hope you make the best of it. I have no goals but to let you know that the future is pretty weird. So maybe, don't worry about being weird yourself… is the message?