A week ago, I ceremoniously yanked out my MacBook's Ethernet cable and toggled off the Wi-Fi. Once I was positive the machine was cut off from the Internet, I added a task to my online to-do list. It worked. I sat back and smiled, agog—I had just seen the future of software.
I wrangle my to-dos with a Web service called Remember the Milk. Compared with a bloated behemoth like Outlook, it's a streamlined, fun-to-use wonder. Rather than sitting on one PC's hard disk, RTM lives on the Web, where it's available on every computer I use. Up until that day, though, it had the same overwhelming problem as every other Net-based service on the planet: It was ... well, Net-based. No Internet connection, no to-do list.
But now Remember the Milk has added support for Google Gears.....
McCracken goes on to question the sense in spending $500 for a future version of Microsoft Office if Google Apps was (Google Apps is a branded service) roughly comparable, not haunted by the so-called offline problem, and free. The truth is that to get the most out of Google Apps, many business will probably opt for the $50 per seat per year price because, among other things, it enables dipping into Google's network of third party solution providers (many of which, like the thousands of apps that helped to make Windows what it is today, will really make the Google Apps platform useful to the masses). $50 is the cost of a single support incident with Microsoft Office. $50 per year for a user of Google Apps includes free telephone support. (If Google Apps takes off, the company may have to do a "WordPerfect" though....a company that eventually had to charge real money for its once free, and legendary phone support.)
McCracken eventually reaches the same conclusion that I have....that "Office will surely leave its desktop roots behind for the Web at some point in the not-too-distant future." He also points out how Web apps, once they're offline, render the operating system moot. This cuts very much to the chase of why Doug Gold and I refer to the event we produce (Mashup Camp, the next one is this July in Silicon Valley) as the "unconference for the uncomputer."
More than anything else, operating systems are collections of APIs that make it so developers can do what once required thousands of lines of code with one line. Things like accessing the network or putting a window on screen (at a certain location with certain color scroll bars and a certain title). But to install an API into the general distribution of traditional operating system like Windows, the Mac, or even Linux requires the say-so of a handful of people. Not so with the Internet which, like operating systems, is also quickly turning into a collection of APIs (a good hunk of which are for Google's applications). In fact, barely a day goes by where another API doesn't show up on the Net -- one that's available to all developers. This is drawing developers in droves to the mashup ecosystem of software where they can draw upon multiple APIs from multiple sources to produce unique and innovative applications.
Toss in the cross-platform nature of those apps, since they run in a browser (which in turn means they run on any OS without modification) and, as McCracken points out, all the inequities between something like the Windows and Mac versions of Office go away. The traditional computer as we know it is simply becoming a point of access to our data and information. The naysayers who once hung their hat on the offline problem (as though it were insurmountable) now talk about how no one will store their data with a service because it's too risky. Hackers could get at it or worse, some privacy invading court or Congress could require the service to turn over the data. (Who do you want defending your data -- your lawyers or theirs?) Meanwhile, companies are flocking to services like Salesforce.com with the one dataset that's their lifeblood: their customer data.
Sun was right (although it may not have been Sun that brought the vision across the finish line). The network is the computer. The uncomputer.