Peer-to-peer services kick-start fifth computing revolution

A fifth revolution of computing is unfolding as peer-to-peer services have turned PCs into servers, promising real-time sharing of applications, Microsoft Canada Co. president Frank Clegg told a Comdex Canada audience Thursday.

“There’s so much processing power available at the edge of the network that we don’t need the number of massive, expensive central servers that had been originally forecast to run our applications,” Clegg said, opening a presentation featuring the bright lights, flashy product displays and tightly scripted support performances common to late-night infomercials.

“The new paradigm is: my PC — or any other device I want to use — should be able to interact directly with yours.

Clegg said the first four computing revolutions (the mainframe, the personal computer, the graphical user interface and the Internet) are giving way to the end-user empowerment revolution and Microsoft intends to take a leadership role in the paradigm shift with its .Net platform and XP operating system (OS).

He added that negativity surrounding the computer industry has been overblown and that the future looks bright for Microsoft and other technology companies.

“There’s been a lot of talk about the demise of this industry this year, and, frankly, I’m not buying into it at all,” said Clegg, citing Canada’s heavy Internet use and a nine per cent increase of PC shipment in Canada during the first quarter of 2001. “We believe the opportunity is greater for the next decade than for the last 50 years.”

Clegg also used his keynote address to announce the launch of a .Net-based initiative, Microsoft’s software services portal. The portal offers subscription-based services designed to help small businesses build their Web sites, increase traffic and interact more efficiently with customers. The different services range in price from $179 and $270 per year. Some are also available on a monthly basis.

Responding to concerns that a subscription-based model would be more costly to the consumer, Clegg said .Net was not designed as a cash cow.

“The thing that’s great about this environment is that people are going to use it and determine whether it’s worth it,” Clegg said. “There is absolutely no strategy to build in any automatic pricing increase.”

Later, at a question and answer session at the Plesman Communications exhibitor booth, an employee of the Toronto Public School Board suggested to Clegg that the new licensing system would result in a 20 to 50 per cent increase for schools using Microsoft products. Clegg said the extent of cost increases will be determined by the operating systems organizations use.

“There is a new licensing that’s out and it’s not just to the public environment,” Clegg said. “What we’re saying is that if you’re staying up to date with the technology, it’s actually cheaper. If you’re going to skip a release, it costs you more.”

Clegg said .Net is about making computing more functional and offered demonstrations of upcoming releases to illustrate how Microsoft technology is working towards a higher level of user empowerment.

First up was Windows XP, set for release in October. With the help of Microsoft Canada XP product manager Erik Moll and a co-op student from Ryerson Polytechnic University, Clegg showed the Comdex audience how XP allows users to give control of their OSs to fellow employees or friends and affords real-time collaboration on documents.

Clegg said XP also enables users running XP on their computer at work to access their office system through a home computer running a Windows OS. While Windows 2000 and Windows ME allow for remote computing, XP promises to make the experience much more seamless.

Clegg touted the PC as the centre of the user-empowerment revolution, calling it the most powerful of the new .Net’s “smart devices,” but stressed that .Net is designed to extend to mobile computing devices like laptops, digital phones and personal digital assistants.

One of those smart devices on display Thursday was a Tablet PC slated for release in about a year. An attempt to merge the “simplicity of ink with the power of the PC,” the Tablet is a paper-sized device that allows users to manipulate handwriting as easily as computer text. The fully operational PC will cost about as much as a laptop and is XP-equipped, to provide easy .Net access.

In an effort to answer security questions raised by .Net’s all-encompassing framework, Clegg pointed to an agreement with VeriSign Inc. (, signed earlier this week, that will see the security company providing authentication and security support for future .Net products.

“If we’re going to successfully provide Web services to users and businesses, we need to prove to our customers that we have the strongest protection possible,” Clegg said.

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