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The Network is the Computer, Revisited January 6, 2010

Posted by Peter Varhol in Architectures, Software development, Strategy.
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John Gage was right; the network is the computer.  While his point of twenty years ago wasn’t quite what it means today, the concept is truer than ever.  At the time, he meant that the whole was more than the sum of its parts, in that all of the computers connected on a LAN were more powerful than the simple addition of those computers without the connectivity.

Today the network is this amorphous cloud with enough devices connected so as to approximate infinity.  Of course, it isn’t infinity, but there is no reasonable chance of visiting every Web site in the world in our lifetimes, so for our purposes the network is infinite.

I was headed in that direction with this post from earlier this week, although I never came right out and said so.  In a separate correspondence, Randy Kahle of 1060 Research pointed me in the direction of the plug computer, which according to the Web site is “A tiny, low power server, intended to provide network-based services within the home.  It is an always-on system, and can serve data and applications to computing devices within the home. It can also be a bridge between home computing devices and Internet-based services.”

The photos are amusing; these systems actually look like power supplies for laptops.

The uses of the plug computer are many and varied, from a home automation controller to an informal file server to an Internet proxy.  I especially like the idea of a small, inexpensive computer as a file server; who says that files servers for small groups have to be big honking machines?

Further, the idea behind the amalgamation of the Internet and all of its connected devices as a ubiquitous shared computer strongly implies that the true value of computing is more than ever in its content.  To the end user, the Internet and more broadly the network are information resources, and the device (computer, smartphone, e-reader) is the on-ramp.  Applications on these devices are less useful for creating content (except for the traditional computer) than for accessing and combining content.

That is the picture we have to hold in our imagination in order to advance technology today.  The traditional computer isn’t dead, but it is in the process of being pushed into the periphery.  New ideas will come from the wealth of content and the different and emerging ways of accessing and manipulating that content.

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