Opinion: Rude reminder of network frailty blunts Web-intensive Dashboard's edge.
You couldnt choreograph a more ironic pas de deux than the debut
of Apples OS X 10.4
, with its Web-intensive Dashboard
data-tracking "widgets," followed just nine days later by a multihour outage of
several Google services
The first event illustrated, not just with a developer-conference
but in an actual shipping product, the difference that results
when always-on connections are designed in rather than added on to an
The second event was a rude reminder that "always-on connection"
borders on an oxymoron, or at any rate tempts the Fates to rub our
noses in technologys
I didnt expect to be all that impressed by the OS X 10.4 Dashboard.
After all, Borlands original Sidekick
back on DOS: Exploiting the bizarre Terminate
and Stay Resident
hack, it achieved a limited form of multitasking
on an operating system that really couldnt handle it. Even so, people loved
its support for their interrupt-driven way of work. I doubted that
Dashboard would be much more than a graphically improved take on the
What makes Dashboard much more interesting than I expected is the
combination of Web services on the back end, at least for the widgets
that I find actually useful, and Web standards-based authoring on the
front end. With a user interface defined by HTML and Cascading Style
relatively straightforward to develop
--and robust in operation
thanks to the fact that it runs on a real Unixoid operating system
Before we get too excited, though, its important to look at
Dashboards capabilities through the lens of the networks
imperfections. When Sun trumpets its long use of the mantra, "The
Network is the Computer
," I bite back the temptation to retort that
Id never pay for a computer that behaves as badly as a network: one
where any given memory address, for example, might or might not respond
to a read or write operation at any given time, or where devices might
come and go without warning.
My concerns about network inconsistency and volatility are
substantial even in benign environments: Things get much worse when
someone actually is out to get you with, for example, a man-in-the
that obtains valuable information just from knowing
what questions youre asking.
Much of the hoopla over Apples OS X centers on its Spotlight
feature, integrating search on multiple attributes of data objects into
a readily accessible and minimally complex user interface. Perhaps the
next generation of users will fully appreciate it: Having grown up with
hierarchical data organization, I may never really get the most from
the ability not to do that anymore.
Im much more interested in OS X 10.4 as a client operating
environment that doesnt treat the Web as something to see through the
rectangular window of a browser, but rather as a source of data and
function that infuses anything I might want to know or do. Thats a
great goal. It falls, not just to infrastructure builders to give us a
Net that good, but to service providers and application developers to
make the Net look better than it is.
Tell me how youll make the Net
look better at firstname.lastname@example.org