System Support for Pervasive Applications


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38. System Support for Pervasive Applications Robert Grimm1 and Brian Bershad2 1 New York University, New York, NY [email protected] 2 University of Washington, Seattle, WA [email protected] 38.1 Introduction Pervasive, or ubiquitous, computing [38.4] has the potential to radically transform the way people interact with computers. The key idea behind pervasive computing is to deploy a wide variety of computing devices throughout our living and working spaces. These devices coordinate with each other and network services, with the goal of seam- lessly assisting people in completing their tasks. Pervasive computing thus marks a major shift in focus, away from the actual computing technology and towards people and their needs. To illustrate this shift in focus, consider, for example, researchers working in a bi- ology laboratory. Their goal is to perform reproducible experiments. Yet, today they manually log individual steps in their paper notebooks. This easily leads to incom- plete experimental records and makes it unnecessarily hard to share data with other researchers, as the biologists need to explicitly enter the data into their PCs. In contrast, a digital laboratory employs digitized instruments, such as pipettes and incubators, to automatically capture data, location sensors to track researchers’movements, and touch- screens throughout the laboratory to display experimental data close to the researchers. As a result, biologists working in the digital laboratory have more complete records of their experiments and can more easily share results with their colleagues. For this vision to become a reality, we need system support that directly helps with building, deploying, and using pervasive applications. However, contemporary system services typically assume a static and well-administered computing environment. Fur- thermore, they tend to hide distribution from applications, with the result that, if changes occur, people need to adapt the system instead of the applications adapting for them. For example, with contemporary systems it is hard to move between machines, as people need to manually log in, start their applications, and load their documents. Similarly, it is hard to integrate new devices, as people need to first configure them, for example, to use the correct wireless network parameters. Furthermore, it is hard to share data, as people need to explicitly manage shared files and convert between different formats. We argue that, to be successful, system support for pervasive computing needs to address three major requirements. First, as people move throughout the physical world— either carrying their own portable devices or switching between devices—an applica- tion’s location and execution context changes all the time. As a result, system support needs to embrace contextual change and not hide it from applications. Second, users expect that their devices and applications just plug together. System support thus needs to encourage ad hoc composition and not assume a static computing environment with A. Schiper et al. (Eds.): Future Directions in DC 2002, LNCS 2584, pp. 212–217, 2003. c© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2003

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