October 17, 2005

Three reasons why Internet-based applications are a bad idea

Author: Robin 'Roblimo' Miller

We've all heard the hype about how Sun and Google may someday, somehow, produce a version of StarOffice or OpenOffice.org that you'll access online through your browser instead of installing an office suite on your hard drive. Even though I think "The Network is the Computer" makes a fine marketing slogan, I am still going to keep most of my software where it belongs: on my own computer. Here are three reasons why.

1. Peering agreement falls apart

You probably heard about the dispute between Cogent and Level 3 that cut off Net access for a lot of people. At the time, I was sitting in a San Francisco hotel room wondering why I couldn't reach my personal email server, which is hosted by a company based in Rhode Island. What if I had been trying to write a
story like this one on a remote word processor or text editor instead of using Quanta on my laptop's hard
drive? I would have been bleep out of luck.

2. Cut one line, cut off DSL all over Florida

On Monday, October 3, 2005, a fiberoptic cable near Jacksonville, Fla., was
severed -- and about
100,000 Verizon DSL subscribers lost service for three and a half hours
. I was one of those subscribers. One cut, one line, 100,000 DSL connections down. Usually, Verizon says, they'd have two lines, but one of them runs through New Orleans, so it was a no-go, even though it's been a number of weeks since Hurricane Katrina. This outage was reported by our local paper, but it didn't make much of a news stir beyond the areas it affected. I'm sure there have been many other local Internet outages we haven't heard about. Google and Sun can produce the greatest network-accessible office suite in the world, but as long as one back-hoe operator can cut your Net connection, you won't be able to rely on it even if it's hosted on rock-solid, super-fast servers.

3. Mysterious outages abound

My coworker and OSTG executive editor Lee Schlesinger lives in an area where Comcast is the only residential broadband Internet provider. Last week, his service stopped working. This was not a national problem or even a regional one, as far as we know. It was just Lee's connection. Comcast told him they'd have a tech out in a couple of days, which is fairly typical cable company behavior. Luckily, the downtown library where Lee lives has Internet access, and a number of nearby businesses (notably Panera Bread) offer free Wi-Fi, so all Lee needs to do if his home Internet connection dies is drive a few miles to get back online. As it happened, Lee's connection started working again a few hours after it went out, but what if it hadn't? I've had both Comcast and RoadRunner over the years, and they're fine when they work, but sometimes they are slow getting things going after something breaks -- and if you're using Net-based applications from your home office, that's just too bad.

"All ISPs suck."

Slashdot founder Rob Malda said that five or six years ago. ISPs are better now than they were then, and you can get a faster connection for less money now (in most areas) than you could a few years ago. But there are still outages from time to time. Not only that, since most ISPs still allow Windows computers to connect to them, there's always the possibility of another Slammer worm or something like it slowing the whole Internet to a crawl.

So, until our Internet connections become a lot more reliable than they are now, I expect we will all go on using local applications instead of Net-based ones -- except for a few, specialized online collaboration utilities like Salesforce and OSTG's own SourceForge.net.

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