Five years of SKILLS in Computing 2006-2011

Since the end of 2006 I've participated to the 5 year European Integrated Project SKILLS (http://www.skills-ip.eu) that this December is going to end with the SKILLS 2011 Conference (www.euromov.eu/skills). The duration of this project and the effort applied mark the end of this period as important to me. This made me think. So what happened to computing in the last 5 years? Some of our design decision in the project could have been changed by current technology or by trends correctly interpreted?

Yes, many things happened in computing and technology in the last five years, let's try to look at them starting from the most interesting to programmers. The idea is to highlight what happened and quantitatively show how things changed.




CPU and GPU Power
At the end of 2006 the Intel Core 2 was just launched and it looked promising in delivering dual core performance. Indeed we adopted it for the visualization cluster in our lab. Later on the same CPU was extended with 4 cores. Only in 2009 Intel transformed their architecture with the introduction of the Intel i5/i7/i3 family of Nehalem microarchitecture, with an interesting increase of performance.

Apart architecture and speed in this period cores went from 2 to 8, although machines with 6 and 8 cores are less common and reserved to high-end workstation. It has to be noted anyway that in Intel CPUs hyperthreading has been re-introduced providing 8 logical cores with a 4 core CPU.

At that time my notebook (http://www.eruffaldi.com/mypc/ ) had a Intel Core 2 Duo T5500 with 13 Gflops provided at 1.66GHz by 290M transistors produced with a 65nm process. My actual notebook has an Intel i7-620M with  2(4) cores that produce 20 Gflops running at 2.66GHz with a 32nm process . Performance metrics for Intel processors can be found at http://www.intel.com/support/processors/sb/cs-023143.htm while Intel evolution is at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Intel_microprocessors ,

During this period Intel Atom processor got some success for netbooks but in the end most of recent low power interest is for ARM CPUs empowering high end mobile phones and tablets. In the domain of CPUs and controllers I should mention the Arduino board that was firstly introduced in 2005, quite interesting for low-computation embedded applications.

GPUs had a steeper curve , as can be found from the listing of Nvidia cards http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_Nvidia_graphics_processing_units . End of 2006 was the time of GeForce 8 and a lot of features and transistors came in the meanwhile up the GeForce 500 series of the Fermi Architecture. In particular at that time we opted for the GeForce 8800 GTX fabricated at 90nm with 681M transistors running at 1300 MHz generating 583 Gflops.  In the lab now we have a GeForce GTX 580 that is extremely powerful made by 3000M transistors at 40nm, running at 1540MHz and outputting 1581 GFlops.

In terms of programmability the former supported OpenGL 3.3 while the latter OpenGL 4.1. Notably in the domain of GPGPU something changed in the programmability with the introduction of the OpenCL as standard for multicore hybrid computing.

Computing and Mobile
The shape of portable and mobile computing changed a lot in this period, due to the  improvement of low power computing capabilities and displays. In 2007 the trend for Netbook was started by the introduction of the Asus EeePC family that spawned a lot of models providing good ratio between power, consumption and cost. Most of them run Atom with Intel integrated graphics.

Mobile phones increased consistently with the advancement of smartphones. In 2007 the first iPhone arrived and we are now in the maturity of the iPhone 4 waiting for the next model.  In the meanwhile, the growth of the iPhone created a new market interest giving the opportunity to Google to introduce a new mobile ecosystem based on the Android OS that delivered the first device at the end of 2008. Now Android is a challenging platform to the iPhone domain.

The last part of this period was marked by the advent of a new generation of tablets that are lightweight and usable. As for the mobile marked the way for this new generation was paved by the iPad introduced in 2010 and followed by iPad 2 in 2011.

Operating Systems
The evolution of Operating Systems in this period is less fascinating than other domains. At the beginning of 2007 Windows Vista arrived but was never liked by the public. Much more interesting was the arrival of Windows 7 in the end of 2009. Now Microsoft is talking about Windows 8 looking for some convergence  with the mobile Windows versions at least in programmability. In the meanwhile Mac OS X got three versions from Leopard 10.5 to Lion 10.7 steadily improving quality

Finally Linux arrived more consistently on the Desktop and on Notebooks in particular with the diffusion of netbooks and the strong by Ubuntu for end-user coverage. In 2011 happened the renaming of Linux 2.6.40 in 3.0 marking a progressive evolution of the operating system.

The Web
In these years the Web changed consistently with the advent of the Web 2.0 that took the form of higher participation by users in particular by an exponential increase of blogs , uploads of videos on YouTube, and microblogging with Twitter. At the same time the world of Social Networking exploded with the raise of Facebook.

In terms of technologies the HTML5 arrived in the last year with a stabilization of the standard. The other change for Web technology is the arrival of the WebGL for embedded 3D programming.

Looking at the general way of managing data on the Web there is the trend about cloud computing and storage that moved from private clouds of Google into open services that can be executed by the user.

The war of Browsers revamped with the arrival of the Google Chrome browser in 2008 that made restart the effort by Microsoft in Internet Explorer. Infact Internet Explorer 7 was released in 2007 and only in 2009 version 8 arrived, followed by version 9 in 2010. In the meanwhile Firefox deployed 2.0 in 2006 and 4.0 in 2011, changing now to a faster release and number cycle then before.

Sensing Technologies
Technologies in the domain of low cost sensing changed a lot and for making it simple I can highlight the advent of the Wiimote that arrived on the marked in 2006, allowing many developers to take advantage of the embedded sensors. Its update with gyroscopes arrived later in 2010. The other notable device is the Microsoft Kinect introduced in the end 2010 allowing to develop new kind of robotic and entertainment applications.

More topics, like programming languages, could be added to this overview, and probably something is missing. Comments are welcome.

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