The Other Road Ahead

In The Other Road Ahead, Paul Graham talks about why more and more software in the future may be server-based. He also talks about ViaWeb, the dot-com startup company he co-founded.

I think the name of this essay is a play on "The Road Ahead," a book written by Bill Gates. If so, it's an apt play on words, because if software becomes more server-based, Microsoft could stand to lose out.

Graham writes:
When you own a desktop computer, you end up learning a lot more than you wanted to know about what's happening inside it... Ordinary users shouldn't even know the words "operating system," much less "device driver" or "patch."

There is now another way to deliver software that will save users from becoming system administrators. Web-based applications are programs that run on Web servers and use Web pages as the user interface. For the average user this new kind of software will be easier, cheaper, more mobile, more reliable, and often more powerful than desktop software.

In a future like this, the main use of a desktop computer would be to provide users with web access. All of the hard work would be done on the "server-side" by corporations maintaining dedicated servers.

This vision is attractive. Individuals would no longer have to remember to back up their files-- sysadmins would do it for them, just like in the "old days" of mainframe computing. Collaboration over the network would become easier. Instead of emailing back and forth MS Word documents, you could perhaps compose them jointly in real time. And software piracy would become almost impossible, because customers would never actually have the software on their computers!

I can see some disadvantages, too. When you put your data on a central server, you are trusting the people there not to misuse it. How much trust can we really put in these sysadmins? Also, the computer stops being self-sufficient, and starts becoming more and more dependent on the network. This might not be such a bad thing, all things considered... but it does create another point of failure. Graham responds to this by pointing out that server-side software eliminates a lot of points of failure, too, by centralizing and professionalizing administration tasks. I guess I agree.

Personally, I keep all of my data on my own machine as much as possible, and back that up. Still, the idea of collaborating with people in real-time is interesting.


Post a Comment

<< Home