Sometimes a switch happens with technology which is the result of several technologies underlying it. It can often mean a change in how we have done things for some time. When this happens, it can become easy to forget or gloss over how significant the change actually is. When we first performed searches on a new search engine over a decade ago called “Google,” we felt this it then. We have experienced a second change, and this time it relates to file management online and to a company called Box.net
The Old Process
For years we have been managing files on external disks. First with Windows Explorer, then with a variety of PC file managers such as ACDSee and many others. Then, when we transferred to Mac, we began managing data with Finder and Spotlight. Along the way, we think we have tried most of the file management solutions out there, and we created a DVD on the topic a number of years ago. Years of experience managing files and disks has brought us to a conclusion regarding the limitations of traditional personal data management.
- Managing disks is a pain. Disks die more frequently than any of us are lead to believe. (the failure rates listed by manufacturersare false )– This can and often does result in lost data.
- The search management of files on personal computers is still unsophisticated and limited in functionality. For all the talk around Spotlight, it is actually disappointing in terms of its results. Google Desktop is impressive in many ways, but has a very narrow set of functionality, and consumes significant computational resources to maintain its index. Furthermore, it is wasteful as the effort that the computer must spend in creating indexes, the number of times these indexes must be recreated and the overall maintenance of the system detracts from computing effort that could go to the user. It makes much more sense for a server to do this work instead.
Files Managed on the Web
We began using Box.net around 6 months ago. This was primarily for transferring files between multiple computers. We never really considered Box.net for our main file management solution until we started performing simple searches. The results below are one such search.
This search found all the files regardless of their directory location, and it did it fast. The speed and the thoroughness of this search was really impressive to us. So we started performing other searches, with similar results. From this we have concluded that Box.net has surpassed the searching capabilities any PC or Mac based system we have used. A second area that Box.net is the best out there is in interface design. The Box.net interface is fast, logical, deep in functionality and an actual pleasure to use. Try using the term “pleasure” and “file manager” in the same sentence. People are out there raving about Spotlight, however are people raving about Box.net? Not really.
The Shift to the Web
We are entering a period where the functionality available online is beginning to surpass the functionality available on the local computer. The web has always been naturally more collaborative than personal computer based sofware, but it is beginning to beat it out in functionality as well. As is evident from our previous sentences, one actually now loses functionality by not keeping one’s files hosted at Box.net.
The Built In Advantage of Web Delivered Software
The second advantage of using a hosted file management solution is that you get out of the disk management business. Professionals managing a large number of disks, can do a more efficient job of managing them (checking on them, removing those that are about to go bad, putting them in a controlled and cooled environment) than individuals can. We can speak to this, as we currently have 5 external disks on our desk. Three have recently gone bad (if not permanently, then they required a complete reformatt) after around 3 to 4 years of intermittent use, and one of the 5 only appears up on one of our Macs when it feels like it.
Why is Box.net A Better Solution?
Does hosting files on a server allow you to perform indexing faster and better and deliver more horsepower against file searching than a PC allows? Possibly. By being web based, Box.net does not have to worry about writing an application to work with Windows or OS 10.x, it can simply focus on its website and file management, and of course the tools it uses.m How it configures its servers is more controllable by the company than if they had to write a software package to do the same thing to run on a local computer that is not optimized for file searching.
The following rules apply for servers and why they are advantagous ver personal computers.
- Servers can be optimized for specific tasks, while a PC or Mac is generalized for many tasks.
- Servers have a lot more horsepower for doing thinks like indexing that does a personal computer
Furthermore, Box.net is collaborative, so files can be shared much better than keeping files on a local computer and then emailing files. With Box.net, the management of files as well as the distribution of files are integrated with one another. If you want to share a file you simply select the file, select share, and you receive a URL you can use to send to people you want to see the file.
Then you are taken to the download location. This is like having your own FTP server.
Disadvantages to Box.net
There are several disadvantages to Box.net, including the trust issue. There is also the time spent to upload the files, which is of course slower than using local disks Finally there is the expense – which while reasonable, is more expensive than managing disks. However, this cost analysis changes when you begin to count the direct costs and forget about the indirect costs, such as your personal time and effort. For us, with all things considered, Box.net is a slam dunk and an example of what is happening in terms of the competition between online and offline applications.
There is a lesson here for operating systems. That is they can begin to lighten up in terms of depth and functionality. More and more of the functionality is going to migrate to specialized web providers. This means that Apple can shrink any further development into file management. Apple may have already figured this out, the release of Snow Leopard is 1/2 as big as Leopard (although much of this is due to dropping support for PowerPC). However, it is likely that Apple appreciates that a smaller operating system can be run on more devices, such as various mobile devices that use less of the device’s resources, and more of the web’s resources.
Microsoft Lost in the Woods
Microsoft still thinks it rules the galaxy, so every release of Windows is bigger than the last (Windows 2003 Server takes up 5 Gig of space, but Vista takes up 35 Gig of space, while offering negligible improvements in functionality.) Windows does not fundamentally “get” the web, and of course the web works against its packaged software model, so Microsoft will continue to lose prominance and market share for this reason (in addition to many other reasons).
Increasingly the OS will simply be seen as a way to assist the user in managing the disk and hardware of the locatal computer (notice Apples Snow Leopard’s new Grand Central Dispatch, which is focused on improving the management of multi-core processors), while providing a portal to the functionality that is out in the web. We have written about how corporate software needs to become more web enabled to take advantage of the benefits of a web centric approach.
However, this trend is just as prominent in consumer and operating system applications. Company after company in the software feild is missing out on this trend, and stuck in a rut with staid and non-innovative software development which is based upon a defeated model. The future belongs to software companies that totally web enable their applications, move to a subscription software model and dump the packaged software model.
Does this eventually end in pure web desktops? That will be the topic of our next post as we test out some of the options in this area.