Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Network is the Computer

A little bit of semi-dismissive hype for the emerging Browser-Based OS'es appears in Slate this week. The author's major objection--users won't want to store their data on remote servers because they won't trust it--I find to be half irrelevant (as we maintain here at OaO, there are two types of data in the world: encrypted and world-readable) and half mutable (trust in product x equals good experience plus time). My current objection to the OS-in-a-browser (Slate reviews YouOS, I've also checked out Goowy) is that, on the client side, it is slower than dirt and keeps hanging my browser. At least for the time being this undermines the mythical touchstone of the (also, thus far mythical) Google PC--it'll be fast because it's running on the servers at Google. If the applications, written mostly in JavaScript and connecting over a DSL or even T1 pipe, can't keep up, it doesn't really matter how fast the underlying servers are.

I expect this problem to get solved in some meaningful way, because I too think the concept of the browser OS is just too freaking yummy. Being able to work on "your" desktop anywhere you can find a browser, much like the advent of web-based email ten years ago, has a lot of appeal; the current OS-specific attempts to allow you to work on your desktop machine remotely are slow, cumbersome, and prone to rather enormous security holes. Also, worrying about the amount of hard-drive space you need and backing up your own data against a crash is an enormous pain and off-shoring that problem to Google or YouOS seems...better. On the other hand, the Thin Client machine has supposedly been coming soon to a home near you for a long time, and we've yet to see it. This revolution, like the coming Web Service/Web 2.0 insurgency I keep heralding, still requires some technology changes. I'm not sure if it's necessarily a super-fast broadband connection in every home so much as something small that changes the perspective of the multitudes out there. Today 90% of the computer users out there think of their computer as a machine that runs Windows, and Windows in turn runs things on their computer. So what has to happen to make users think of a computer as something that runs a browser instead? And would this be a thing good or bad?

Next: Dirt! Is it really that slow?
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Rebecca said...

do you really think 90% of computer users out there can differentiate the OS from the computer from the programs they're running?

In my experience it's generally: "I'm on AOL on my PC" and that's truly the extent of their engagement with their computers. Finding docs or images downloaded, navigating through the desktop--it's like it's one object with one layer, not a hunk of metal and plastic running an OS that in turn allows you to run multiple programs.

I agree that the major hurdle is overcoming people's fear of offloading their stuff to some massive server elsewhere. But in some ways that's only a problem if you understand that your C drive is, indeed, local, and the P drive isn't. What I'm trying to say is this: day-to-day users of PCs don't need this paradigm shift because they never made the first one--the one that allows them to understand how their computer works, the difference between RAM and hard drive, between C drive and Q drive, between 'Microsoft Word' and 'Microsoft Windows'. They have the same initials even. can't blame the folks for being confused.

so maybe this is a good thing for the revolution: do it before they've caught on to the other one. the one in the 1984 commercial.

Transient Gadfly said...

That was actually my point about the 90% of computer users, that they don't distinguish between the PC & the operating system. When you turn on your computer it says, "Windows" in big shiny, flashy letters. Give Microsoft credit, they won't license their product to an OEM without the ability to dominate the splash screen at start-up. Message is everything.

sageblue said...

I told my putative boss that he needed to reinstall iTunes so he could check out the podcast we made of our recent speaker (which you can do as well...and hear my um-filled introduction of her). He was leery of doing this because all of his music is in iTunes.


I have to disagree with Red. For most users, there is a lack of understanding of where the C drive stuff goes versus where the P drive stuff goes, BUT those same users will like the idea of their stuff being physically on their computer, so, if need be, they will be able to magically pluck it out with electronic tweezers if something goes wrong.