Saturday, February 21, 2009

Netscape Constellation - Cloud Computing from the Past

You've probably been hearing "Cloud Computing" a lot these past few months. Ever since the success of  netbooks and the mobile internet computing we've been told the future is in the Web. There's nothing you can't do, provided you're connected to the Internet.

Truth be told, if you use a computer without Internet access, you'll feel strange and uncomfortable... "cramped"...
No chance to download any software, no chance to update your computer... It kind of reminds me of the days where CD drives were about to become common... Whenever you went to fix a computer, you'd never know if you'd be able to use a CD or be forced to use floppy after floppy to install something (yes, I'm talking about dozens of floppy disks, taking very long minutes, and likely to have a bad sector ruining it all when it almost finished.

Today, even if you're able to carry 8 or 16GB in a cheap USB Flash drive, the feeling is the same: all the up-to-date software is on the internet... and there's nothing you can do about it.

That's why people are start to consider using a browser as their main "operating system" allowing you access all you data from wherever you are - whether on your own computer or someone else's. The only requirement is to be connected.
(Though, you won't be left standing if you can't be always connected. The new HTML5 will make it easy to use web apps in offline mode as you can see with this demo of Gmail in offline mode for the iPhone.)

What you might not know is that this is the exact same thing Netscape Constellation tried to achieve, back in... 1997! (Yep, that's 97 as in... last century. A time where BYTE still stood for a great computer magazine - though already worse than it's 80's years. :)

Let me quote a paragraph from Wikipedia that sums it quite nicely:
Industry observers confidently forecast the dawn of a new era of connected computing. The underlying operating system, it was believed, would become an unimportant consideration; future applications would run within a web browser. This was seen by Netscape as a clear opportunity to entrench Navigator at the heart of the next generation of computing, and thus gain the opportunity to expand into all manner of other software and service market.

Were they right or were they right?
We may not have a constellation shining in our computers, but we now have similar "cloudy" promises and browsers implementing OS-like features... I just hope it doesn't take another decade to get it right.

If you like this kind of stuff, be sure to read some more about it at Kateva.

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