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Communications of the ACM

Communications of the ACM

A Just-in-Time Software-Based World


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In the past year, three new digital devices have provided a glimpse of daily changes in our future: the email PDA, the digital VCR, and the automobile GPS.

The RIM Blackberry provides Microsoft Exchange email in realtime to my belt where I can read, reply, and forward messages 24-hours-a-day from anywhere in the world. It has replaced the clumsy use of laptops in most of my non-office email usage. Replay TV downloads a new TV guide to my television set every day and conveniently records to a digital hard drive for play and retrieval in ways similar to a computer-based desktop, not a linear VCR. My Volvo's GPS has replaced the need for written directions by calculating and recalculating the route and confidently giving driving commands better than any fellow passenger could ever provide. Satellites always know where I am located within three feet of my current location.

In the last year, we have also seen the nascent start of peer-to-peer computing in the form of Napster and other distributed storage applications. In less than one year, 35 million users discovered and began using a computer program that can spread a single item into millions of copies in a matter of days without the need to add storage or complicated storage and retrieval mechanisms. This is also a forerunner to überdistributed use of storage, bandwidth, or computation.

In all these cases the information is current and the need for paper or preprocessing has been virtually eliminated. Whatever is needed can be made available on demand. As we start a new millennium, pervasive appliances are employing computer chips, wired or wireless network connections, and more and more impressive real-time computer software that can understand the relevance of the data. It will be faster to retrieve information from the source than to try to search our own local systems for it. And it will always be up-to-date. As the software gets more advanced and compelling, we will be willing to forgo the ways we manually use these devices today.

The just-in-time world will also be the guiding principle for businesses. It will be faster to retrieve and recalculate information from the supply chain when it is required rather than constantly store and restore information and past computations locally. It will not only be the preferred method, but it will be the required method to be competitive.

We are also about to embark on a world where computation needs are always satisfied, storage needs are always satisfied, and bandwidth needs are always satisfied, and any device can be added to the network to take advantage of the network. The thin client will become even thinner and our world will be far less cluttered as computation and directory services are pushed into the world network. The software will become the facilitator of every facet of our lives.


I think there's a world market for about five computers.
IBM founder Thomas Watson, 1943


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Authors

Ann Winblad (awinblad@humwin.com) is a noted software industry entrepreneur and co-founding partner of Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, San Francisco, CA.

Mark Gorenberg (mgorenberg@humwin.com) is a partner of Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, San Francisco, CA.


Copyright held by author.

The Digital Library is published by the Association for Computing Machinery. Copyright © 2001 ACM, Inc.


 

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