Another paradigm shift awaits

Sometimes it's more important to pay attention to the people who attend an event than what is said at the event itself. That was true during the recent launch of Groove Network, led by the original developer of Lotus Notes.

Sometimes it's more important to pay attention to the people who attend an event than what is said at the event itself. That was true during the recent launch of Groove Network, led by the original developer of Lotus Notes.

Backed by more than $US50 million in funding, this start-up company promises to finally unleash the benefits of peer-to-peer computing for corporate customers in much the same way that Napster has unleashed peer-to-peer computing for music fans. The technology behind Groove Networks is interesting, but of more interest was the list of people who attended the event.

First, there was Jim Manzi, former head of Lotus Development. Then there was Dan Bricklin, one of the original co-creators of the spreadsheet, who a week earlier at the Agenda conference in Arizona, shared some insights with Sean Fanning, the developer of Napster.

Also in attendance was Sheldon Laube, one of the primary drivers of Notes' adoption during his days at Price Waterhouse (now PricewaterhouseCoopers).

Hang on, it gets better than that. Both Bill Gates and Andy Grove took time to teleconference in their support of the Groove platform. It could be just a bunch of buddies getting together to lend old friend Ray Ozzie their support. But there is something more akin to The Empire Strikes Back going on here.

For the past three years, the PC industry has watched its beloved platform turn into a disposable device.

Once considered the very centre of the universe, the PC client is now seen as a commodity device for distributing content residing on a global network of servers.

In this post-PC era, companies such as Microsoft and Intel are just a few of many offering server platforms alongside Sun, IBM and Hewlett-Packard.

If Microsoft and Intel have their way, all that will change. With the advent of peer-to-peer computing, the server is once again relegated to second-class status. Instead, every PC now has the capability to be a server to any other PC simply by exposing some portion of its C: drive to that other device.

What's also interesting about Groove Networks is how much its application relies on distributed Windows technologies and XML. In fact, there is no direct support for Java and little thought has been given to the role of handheld devices.

In addition to lending moral support to Groove, Gates made it clear that Microsoft is keenly interested in how peer-to-peer computing technologies can be integrated with its still amorphous Microsoft.NET architecture.

Intel, meanwhile, has signalled its support for peer-to-peer computing and is probably looking forward to the massive number of new PC systems that will be required to give a PC client the ability to actually function as a server.

Now it's unlikely that the peer-to-peer computing models will completely usurp the role of the server. But these technologies will soon be coming to an IT shop near you. Word has it that Wal-Mart is considering the use of Groove to allow customers to set up affinity discussions around different products.

IT people will face the challenge of laying such technologies on top of their existing assets while also trying to maintain some modicum of security and control.

It'll probably be a rocky ride for some time, but eventually good tools for managing peer-to-peer environments will appear.

In the meantime, strap yourself in. Yet another paradigm shift - probably the fourth in as many years - is about to rock your world.

Vizard is InfoWorld editor in chief. Send email to Michael Vizard.

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