Communicating freely

Thoughts on how we can all talk a little easier, and how that can make life better.

When everything goes together…

Sometimes weeks pass without having the decency to give proper notice. That’s my current situation. In the blink of an eye I find myself in August instead of mid-July, and I’m rather concerned that I’m ageing without proper supervision.

So much has occurred since my last post. I’ve participated in a rather interesting security round-table at Birmingham University for the South Birmingham LUG. I’ve attended LUG Radio Live. I’ve delivered an unusual security talk to Birmingham Perl Mongers. I’ve contributed to certification frameworks. I’ve compiled code. The list goes on.

The most interesting thing for me during these weeks has been the constantly reoccurring theme of ‘a change in computing’. One way or another everyone is muttering about it. We’re all getting that nervous feeling that the Internet and the desktop are altering significantly. We see signs. People are talking about services, solutions, evolution.

I feel like we’re back in 1996. We’re looking at something with massive potential and we’re trying to get our heads around it. In 1996 the ‘thing’ was the Internet. Now I suspect the big thing is convergence. I think we’re going to see increasing transparency between local and remote services. We’re about to see that leap beyond Web 2.0 that people can feel on the hairs on the back of their neck.

“Pardon?” I hear you ask.

Well, I have this sneaking suspicion that we’re going to see a new generation of web services that integrate fully with workstations. Can it a hunch, but I see signs that the constraint of the web browser on the delivery of remote services is about to be removed, and we’ll see them existing beside our local applications.

We’ve seen some technologists rooting around this area with things like widgets. We’ve seen Google playing with Google Earth. People are testing the waters to see how this stuff can work. I believe when someone gets their head around it fully we’ll see some pretty startling technology.

At it’s most fundamental level we need a way to deliver non-geographic services without having network latency. AJAX provided part of the conceptual solution for this but fails to realise the full potential of remote services. It really is awful that Meebo is stuck inside a wasteful browser window.

Perhaps the next step will be the creation of special APIs for remote services. These APIs would create windowing objects and interaction with a local graphical user interface. They would allow Meebo to give me a cheerful messenger client on my desktop without the browser. That would be cool. Take it a step further and you’ve got your email client, messenger client and calender acting local but with the collaborative power and non-geographical flexibility of the remote.

Someone at the back just passed out. I suspect they were thinking about security.

Let’s go over that point by point.

Number one: how do we ensure the remote system is safe? The answer is a password. We’re pretty used to that already.

Number two: how do we ensure that we can trust the data host? The answer is we don’t have to. The remote profile data can be encrypted and only decrypted on the local machine while it’s being used. I believe this is relatively easy to conceptualise. I’ll go into that more another time. The personal data held remotely (be it email or other) can be secured using perfectly normal methods like OpenPGP and S/MIME.

Number three: how do we ensure the local machine is not compromised by bad web applications? The answer is special APIs. The APIs would create virtual window objects with access to a browser engine but without allowing access to anything else. It would be a separate API set to the standard local application API. In other words, it would only create the impression of a local application object like a window or taskbar item. The actual processes are held in lonely containers or virtual machines.

I’m going to go over this stuff in more detail another time. I think there is a lot of merit in the assertion that local and remote will have their differences reduced to zero. It strikes me as the next logical step in ICT evolution.

I’m really bored of finding my laptop is dead, there is no power socket, and there’s a net café around the corner. I need a solution to give me my full productivity tools without having to think about physical machines or geographical location. I know I’m not the only one. If someone delivers these tools without us needing to reinvest in infrastructure they’ll have the proverbial ‘killer app’.

Do you agree with me? Do you think I’m talking nonsense? Do let me know. is the address for love, hate and everything in between.