How the Rest was Won


Distrubuted computing has been the Holy Grail for many in the computer industry. Sun has advertised continually that “the network is the computer”. We have begun to see these prophecies come to fruition with the advent of services like Napster. Napster exemplifies distributed storage using the net. One can find virtually any song at any given time, always out there on the net- sitting on someone else’s hard-drive.

In the example with Napster, there is a mechanism to access files from any connected hard-drive. Distributed computing also brings into consideration collaboration as well. Consider on-line gaming for instance. There are two individuals separated geographically playing against each other. This involves distributed computing because the game runs on one of the players system, while the other player simply uses the computing power of his opponent. ASPs (Application Service Providers) could be well poised to provide the computing power for this type of participative computing. A player would not need to own the gaming system (Nintendo, Playstation, etcÉ), nor would he need to own the game itself. With only a net connection he could play with the same friend, but with the option to lease or pay per use of the game and the associated hardware.

The ASP example illustrates how any application can sit on a central computer accessible by a given individual. This is essentially the definition of the “network computer” with a centralized processor and scattered work stations with reduced processing power, storage, etc.

I believe it is noteworthy to consider the combination of the two examples. By combining the distributed “library” of Napster with the collaboration of on-line gaming, we can imagine the possibility of a growing Collective Knowledge on the internet. It has been said the Internet is the repository of all human knowledge. Be that as it may, I still find it difficult to discover even very specific information. If there were a centralized, standard application for the storage and distribution of this information, we could begin to develop a Collective Knowledge bank. There are a few movements that are attempting to do just that. Gnutella is the first example that comes to mind. Scour is another. Neither of these is the solution, they only indicate the direction.

What we need to reach is a system where we can find the most current information available on a given subject immediately as well as to post any information recently obtained with the same rapidity.

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