The content of this blog is my personal opinion only. Although I am an employee - currently of Nvidia, in the past of other companies such as Iagination Technologies, MIPS, Intellectual Ventures, Intel, AMD, Motorola, and Gould - I reveal this only so that the reader may account for any possible bias I may have towards my employer's products. The statements I make here in no way represent my employer's position, nor am I authorized to speak on behalf of my employer. In fact, this posting may not even represent my personal opinion, since occasionally I play devil's advocate.

See http://docs.google.com/View?id=dcxddbtr_23cg5thdfj for photo credits.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Company abandons internal news servers; thoughts about PC versus Google

Minorly off-topic, but I feel impelled to note that _I_n_t_e_l_ has just ZBB'ed its internal NNTP news servers. Actually, they were ZBB'ed many years ago, but volunteers kept them going. Those volunteers may now be ZBB'ed. New volunteers may arise; heck, I may; but the path of least resistance is to give up on getting USEnet news inside the company, and go to some external service. E.g. today I am posting from Google Groups.

Personal relevance to comp.arch: my employer's internal news servers have been my main connection to comp.arch since 1991. Brief exceptions while I was in Madison and at AMD. Prior to joining _I_n_t_e_l_ I participated in comp.arch and its predecessor net.arch on news servers from the University of Illinois and from Gould and Motorola. I still maintain that I learned more computer architecture from comp.arch than I did in any school; moreover, I am fairly confident that I would never have gotten my job with _I_n_t_e_l_ without my comp.arch mediated acquaintance with Bob Colwell.

Generic relevance to comp.arch: this is a trend. Actually two trends.

Trend #1 is that less and less personal computing can be done at work, and that more and more work related computing is "freeloading" on personally paid for computing.

Most people used to have only one email address that they used for both work and personal matters. You can still do this, but it is becoming increasingly hard to do so because companies like my employer do not allow you to access the corporate network from your own computers; you can only do so from a company owned device.
So you have a personal mail service, as well as your work mail service. Maybe your personal mail servce is from an ISP, and changes whenever your ISP changes, you move, or when Qwest gets bought out by Verizon. Maybe you have your own domain.
But your company doesn't allow you to run POP across the firewall. Similarly for newsgroup access: your company desn't allow you to run NNTP across the firewall.

This leads to Trend #2: Google. More generically, the rebirth of "Big Iron", centralized, computer service companies.
Google *is* "Big Iron". Maybe not in the IBM mainframe sense, but anyone who has seen a Google machine room knows that it is a completely different scale than a desktop or laptop PC.
For many years I tried to keep my personal computing environment PC based. I ran my mail reader on my laptop or desktop PC, sometimes via a client technology such as POP, IMAP, sometimes peer-to-peer stuff like SMTP. Similarly, up until now I have read news on my laptop or desktop PC. When I saved a file, it was saved on my PC's hard disk. I could not access my environment of saved files and email without being on my PC. Maybe I could read my email from other computers, but I did not have my mailreading environment on those other computers, so I tried to avoid doing so.
But, not being able to access my personal email from work - no POP, no ssh - was the last straw. I switched to Google mail. Now I can access my personal email from any computer - at work, at home, from my wife's computer. From my relatives' computers. I no longer need to drag my personal laptop around with me.

Downside: I cannot access my Google email when I am not connected to the net. For many years this was the biggest reason that I stayed PC based. Broadband took a long time to get to many of the places where I spend time, like Oceanside, Oregon, and the Ottawa river valley in Canada. Broadband is still not available in many of my favorite places, such as Eastern Oregon. Heck, cell phone service is not available. (I am waiting for reports of the Microsoft/KVH mobile broadband with interest.)
Perhaps most important for business folk, I cannot access Google email on a plane, when I am not connected to the Internet.
Yes, I know: you can access Google mail via POP, downloading it to a mobile PC where you can read it disconnected. But that just puts you back in the "your mailreadimg environment lives on only one PC" mode. So far as I know, there is no way to download Google mail to your PC, and then upload back to Google any annotations, tags, classifications, and spam markings you have made to your email while disconnected.
I hope that Google will soon remedy this, and provide disconnected operation, not just for email, but also for other Google services such as Google groups.

Interestingly, moving to Google mail has provided more freedom from the point of view of form factor. In my "my mailreading environment lives on a single laptop PC" days, I needed to have a laptop that met my minimum needs for all common situations. E.g. it had to have a big enough screen, enough disk, and a keyboard. But now that I am Google based I can seriously consider reading email on a keyboardless tablet in my living room, or a PDA, or... Since I can always go to another device. I.e. I am more likely to buy a "widget" specialized computer now that I am using Google mail than I was when I used a PC.
I hypothesize that this is true not just of me, but also of other users. Perhaps the long awaited flowering of specialized devices for ubiquitous computing is now about to begin.

Terminology change: I used to read my mail on my laptop PC. Now I read it on Google, via a web browser that happens to run on a PC, but which could run elsewhere. I used to be a PC user. Now I am a Google user.

USEnet news is just another information service, like email. Same considerations apply. Since I have switched to Google mail, I might as well switch to Google groups. Ditto RSS, and other information services.
What I really want is to receive all of my information inputs in a common environment, that can seamlessly prioritize and sort email, USEnt news, RSS, regular news, IM, and telephony. Google is the most likely company to achieve this.

Interestingly, I have been forced into schizophrenia. My work information feeds are in one place, my personal feeds in another. At the moment it appears that the personal feeds on Google are more integrated, have better search abilities, etc., although far less storage.
Will this keep up? Or will the quality of information management at work play leapfrog with Google? I do not know... but I predict that at least some fraction of companies will just outsource their employees email, etc., to Google. I.e. I predict that Google will be able to provide a single stop for both work and personal information management. And that because of this, it will have a larger critical mass than companies that are stuck just supporting an individual's work computing and information needs.

Returning to trend #1: not only will less and less personal computing be done at work, but more and more work computing will be done personally... because the personal computing environment, whether Google based or whaever, is pulling ahead of the work environment. (Unless Google takes over the work environment, as predicted above.)
The item that sparked this post is just an example: reading USEnet newsgroups such as comp.arch is recreation, but I also fairly regularly post queries to newsgroups such as comp.lang.c, etc., for work related questions. Closing down the company's internal news service, of course, means that I will be now doing this using my personal computing resources. I.e. Google groups.
More evidence of this trend: back in the old days companies paid for 2nd phone lines for computer access. Nowadays you are expected to pay for your own broadband access, and to use it for after hours work. I keep meaning to take an income deduction for my broadband for tax purposes, since the logs plainly show that it is mostly used for work, not pleasure.

Summing up:
Prompted by: my company abandoning internal new servers.
Hypothesis: there is a trend away from PC based computing and information services, towards centralized computer services like Google.

The computer industry battle is not _I_n_t_e_l_ versus AMD, or Microsoft versus Linux. It is the PC versus Google.

(Here, I use "Google" as representative of web based computing services, ubiquitously accessible so long as you have Internet access.)

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