The collection of computers, satellite links, fibre optic links etc. that connect together a substantial proportion of the world’s computers in one giant network where any computer can talk to any other computer.
You might wonder how Internet law can work. If you have your servers in Thailand, aren’t you immune from US law? Governments can make up whatever laws they please. The tools they have to enforce them include
We see disputes about American companies refusing to comply with European privacy laws to protect Europeans. We see the Chinese blocking their citizens from reading sites that contradict Chinese propaganda.
This essay is about my vision of what the Internet will be like in future. In future everyone will be using the Internet, from toddlers to the terminally ill. We need to make it much simpler and safer to use. There are five broad areas I will cover:
|More efficient, reliable protocols.||For distributing files and transporting mail.|
|Routine use of digital signing and encryption.||A general tightening of email and newsgroup protocols to prevent forgery and spam and to ensure reliable delivery.|
|Automatic distribution and update of software.||Rent, buy or lease your software. The effect of anti-piracy measures.|
|Electronic commerce.||Subpenny royalties work economically even for subpenny transaction amounts. It means moving away from software purchase to software rental and other payment schemes where you don’t give the vendor all your money up front.|
|Desktop Migration.||Whenever in the world you sit down at a computer, your familiar files and applications are there for you. They follow you around like a puppy.|
RFC 3439 elaborates the Internet’s philosophy of simplicity over efficiency.
Software should periodically check itself out to make sure all files are present and accounted for and that no files are corrupt or inconsistent. If there are problems, a generic repair program can automatically download just the needed pieces for repair, or restore them from backup.
There is great opposition to automatic update among nerds. They want to control the process themselves. This is a delusion of grandeur. Today, installations are black boxes. There is nothing about them you can control any more, other than which drive to install on. Further, ordinary users don’t want to control them. Drive selection should be automatic. Further, clever defraggers should be free to move files about between drives to speed access. Demanding that everyone manually control drive selection is like demanding that everyone continue to manually control the spark advance on their cars.
You legitimately might want to control the timing of the installation of updates. You might want to freeze any updates the night before your income tax is due. There is always a chance that the update will somehow interfere with your crucial work, or simply confuse you with its improved user interface. You don’t have time to learn anything new.
The other objection nerds have to automatic updates is that today, so many companies botch them. As nerds, they consider themselves more capable than the vendors to handle the updates. They could care less about the average user. First, I suggest that the update process not be handled by individual vendors. Vendors provide the files, but the operating system, or standard privileged Java system classes, do the actual installation work. Operating systems must ensure installations or updates do not meddle with any other applications or files. The official installer would ensure there was a backup so that user could rollback the update with a click if there were problems.
If we don’t have automatic updates what mindless busywork do we have to contend with?:
Customers will identify themselves as beta tester, early adapters, mid stream adapters and conservative late stream adapters. They may pay different rates for these positions in the update order. Updates will be phased in for maximal safety for the late stream adapters. They won’t need to research carefully the reports of others before deciding when and if to apply an update. If the vendor repeatedly fouls up, get a new vendor.
Since vendors will be 100% responsible for cleaning up their own messes, I suspect they will be much more careful than they are now.
In any case, when a new version comes available, especially an emergency bug fix, there is a sudden burst of downloads. We need the URN-style caching to help rapidly broadcast such updates. The URN scheme would also allow all the users of a given LAN (Local Area Network) to share one copy of the downloaded update.
Because update files are encrypted and because they are useless without a custom-crafted digital key containing branding information and crucial parts of the program, they can be broadcast freely without restriction over public nets and public caching servers.
Subpenny royalties work economically even for subpenny transaction amounts. It means moving away from software purchase to software rental and other payment schemes where you don’t give the vendor all your money up front. This enhances competition. To switch vendors, you need not discard any investment, other than your investment in learning. This threat keeps vendors on their toes. The focus shifts from sucking in naïve new customers with dancing paperclips to meat and potatoes issues to keep existing customers happy.
When subpenny royalties are finally invented it will create a Gutenberg-comparable revolution. Anyone could become self-employed easily selling their services on the Internet without fear of piracy. See prebranded software rental, online books, digital cash.
Each creation has a globally unique name and a globally unique number (akin to DNS/IP).
There is a directory so you can find out the latest IN (incarnation number) of any C (creation). Ins always start at 0 and increment by 1.
You can register for birth notices on any creation so that the creator will indirectly notify you of any new incarnations.
All creations/incarnations are digitally signed, so that you can be sure you got the original work uncorrupted and untampered.
Incarnations are distributed in two compressed forms, complete and incremental deltas from the previous incarnation.
God is in the details.
How does this work behind the scenes? First, the applications would not actually be transferred. The hotel would have common ones such as MSWord already available on its hard disk. They would be useless to anyone without authorisation to use them however. When you buy or rent MSWord, you are buying the right to use it anywhere in the world, not just to use your copy back home. Other, less common, applications would be rapidly downloaded and installed as needed from the Internet. Some that you wrote yourself might actually have to be transferred as needed from your home machine (which may have a 24-hour ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line technology) or fibre connection). More likely they would come from a backup service server that automatically kept backups of your personal files.
When you rent software, you can afford to have thousands of programs on tap. Your hard disk acts like a cache that holds the apps you use most frequently. If ever you use one not on the disk, it can quickly install it from the Internet completely automatically.
The desktop in your Swiss hotel room would not be completely identical to the one back home. Instead of your local printer icons, you would see the icons of some printers owned by the hotel, or by a print shop across the street.
Having your personal files flying over the Internet, perhaps arriving at the Swiss hotel before you do is disconcerting. All transmissions must be protected by heavy duty encryption. We have to persuade the nations of the world to butt out and legally permit heavy-duty encryption for files sent to yourself or to anyone else for that matter.
For this to work well, we need faster communication lines than are common today. Thus efficient use of bandwidth is very important. Java is the most efficient language in terms of small executable sizes and so is a good candidate to lead this effort off.
I repeat, fast download is crucial. Other techniques that will be used include: giant hard disks to speculatively cache huge numbers of apps the user might want to install (i.e. make visible), compression, distributing all manner of updates as deltas, ADSL and fibre links.
To start with, only a very few apps may migrate — ones that come in perfectly compatible editions for a variety of processors. Perhaps, to start, only the business basics will be provided — email, spreadsheet, word processor, browser.
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