The Internet is the computer

| Networking
Writing about Microsoft's acquisition offer for Yahoo (everyone has a clever proposed name for this, mine is MiHoo, pronounced my-hoo), Chris Wilson says:
As access to the Internet has become ubiquitous, computer users have increasingly gone to the Web for what were once offline tasks. In the near-future, it will become more efficient to run an application, like a word processing program, off of a central network of computers rather than an individual hard drive. The concept is known as "cloud computing": Documents will begin and end their lives on a server rather than a personal computer, and users will be able to access their personal documents and favorite programs wherever they are with any networked device.

Wilson is certainly right to observe that there is real interest in moving functionality from the machines on people's desks to servers, but of course we've been around this cycle a number of times before (remember mainframes? minis? XTerminals? the SunRay?) so it's not like conditions here are unique. What's semi-unique is that the we're returning to the really early days of computing where (at least sometimes) clients from multiple organizations connect to a central server owned by some other organization. Back in the day, it was because computers were so expensive, now it's driven by networks and computers being cheap, but management being expensive. (As Tech Ennui observes, this is related to, but not the same as Myers and Sutherland's wheel of reincarnation).

It's also not really clear how much Web apps like the ones Google is building are really going to take off. People are really pretty committed to their desktop word processing apps, spreadsheets, etc. It remains to be seen if they're really going to be willing to outsource them to Google, Microsoft, whatever.

Interestingly, in order to move the nominal location of services into the cloud, we're moving processing onto the desktop (this is different from say XTerminals, where nearly all the processing was on the server (the X client)). Classic Web apps use the client as a dumb display engine but Web 2.0 AJAX-style apps move processing onto the client using JavaScript. In fact, if you squint hard enough, AJAX looks a tiny bit like NeWS.