I have seen the future, or more precisely, little pieces of the future protruding into the present. Barnes &Nobel has unwrapped its e-reader, dubbed "Nook," which is intentionally crippled by its corporate masters. But it won't stay that way.
Here's how it's crippled: There's no Web browser. I get it. The Nook connects to download books and periodicals from B&N's online store through AT&T's 3G digital wireless phone network. The cost of that service is included in the purchase price (and in B&N's bookselling business model).
AT&T is already hurting from high 3G usage by iPhone users. And B&N wants you to buy pay books, not read BoingBoing.
At any rate, no Web browser means no Web browsing. It also means you can't use the built-in Wifi alternative from your hotel or airport lounge, because you need a Web browser to authenticate.
Crippled. But this will not last. I expect to see a Wifi-only Web browser on this device before long, and if B&N doesn't do it, somebody will jailbreak it.
The Nook is based on free, open software: Linux with Google's Android user interface. Regardless of what AT&T and B&N might wish, within five years you're going to see Chinese factories flooding the marketplace with open, Web-friendly, Android-powered devices that look pretty much like this and connect through any Wi-Fi hub. There's already an iRex device headed for your local Best Buy.
Technology wants to be used. E.Ink, which owns the high-resolution/low-power display technology, stands to make a whole lot more money from hundreds of millions of open e-readers than from tens of thousands of closed e-readers. Factories want to build and ship products. People want to do things, not just read.
So the Nook shows us a glimpse of the future, but it is not the future. We will see cheap, fast, reliable, easy-to-use and most especially open tablets hanging from blister packs at Target stores. That's the future, and it's only a matter of time.