All I need is a Portal

No, not that kind of Portal.

In this case, I’m talking about any device that can connect to the internet: desktops, laptops, tablets, phones, e-readers, smart TVs, and I’m sure many more that I have missed. I’m probably late to this party, but I have finally clued into that fact that I no longer do anything that doesn’t require a connection to the internet. “But wait!”, you say, “what about…”

… Professional Life?

I’m guessing most people get this already but, of course, there’s email. And then there’s the myriad of web forms that I process. And the scheduling that lives on a central server. And the 7 (!) instant messaging systems that I’m always connected to…

Like most people in the high tech industry, the entire context for the work I do lives entirely on the internet (or at least the intranet). Heck, my team is split across half the world, so I couldn’t even communicate with them without Sametime (*sigh*) and IP phones.

But then what about the actual software development tasks that I’m supposed to be doing? Well, you know desktop Eclipse is still my bread and butter, and aside from downloading it (and updating it) via eclipse.org, it really will run without an internet connection on your favorite desktop. But then all of the content that I work with actually lives on the eclipse.org servers, so I do need a connection to pull/push my work, even if I can get by without one in between.

And that’s the important detail, actually. I now think of working locally as “working from the cached” data; it’s certainly useful to have a way to work without an internet connection, but I absolutely must have one when I’m doing something real. That progression is what’s at the heart of the Orion work.

Orion actually seems like the most natural thing in the world to me now: I could run an Orion server on my local machine, which (together with a browser) gives you a story conceptually equivalent to Eclipse desktop: Local tools, running against a cached version of something that really lives on the internet. But why would I want that? If I need the internet to get the “real” data, why not serve the tools from there too? Obviously, they would need to still perform well and be fit for purpose, but beyond that there really isn’t anything special about having them local.

Case in point: While waiting for a laptop upgrade at work I was stuck for a few days running on a 1Ghz netbook with 2Gig of RAM. (Long story, better left untold.) During that time, I used the netbook as just a portable web browser — think “Chromebook” [Aside: why are all the current Chromebooks slow?]. On it, I kept web pages open on Lotus iNotes (for work mail/calendar), iCloud (for home mail/calendar/address book), and GMail (to hold my bugzilla spam 😉 ). I also spent the time doing useful Orion work, again with multiple windows open. All in all, this worked perfectly well. It wasn’t speedy, but it wasn’t holding me back. On that machine, at least, there would have been no hope of getting Lotus Notes and Desktop Eclipse both running reasonably. No way.

I can even get to all of those sites, and work with them, on my iPad. With an external keyboard, it’s actually almost good enough as a full time “portal”. Even without one, the first time you realize you can now do work anywhere there’s a cell signal is quite an eye opener.

Regardless of the tool to get there, I really can’t do my work without access to the internet. Maybe I could have at one time, but now if the network goes down, it makes more sense to go home, or anywhere else that you can get a network connection. (I actually shared my phone hotspot with others the last time that happened, so they could keep working.)

Ok, so what about…

“… gaming?”

Well, let’s see, what games do I currently play? Truthfully, all the games I play are PC based. It’s been years since I played a board game or card game, and I only occasionally play games on handhelds or consoles. For me, it’s all about PC gaming (and really that’s only reason why I still have a PC 😉 ).

So, what am I playing? There are the MMOs, of course, which are internet only by definition:

(and those are just the ones I’m currently playing).

Then there are the blockbuster single-player titles that I still make time for — things like Diablo, Deus Ex, Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and hopefully Watch Dogs (I’m expecting good things).

The thing is, I never go to a brick and mortar store to buy PC games any more. I almost always download the games from one of the online providers like Steam or (if there is no other choice) Origin. When you use one of these services to buy your games, the systems requires you to check in with them (via an internet connection) when you go to play the game. Not ideal, but I’ve gotten used to it, and (at least in Steam’s case) they also provide the side-benefit of uploading your game saves, so you can just delete the entire game off your system, and if you ever decide to play again, pick up where you left off at the cost of a (free) re-download.

Diablo 3, of course, is even more tied to the internet. It is effectively running an MMO backend, under the covers, even when you are playing in single-player mode. Your character can’t do anything without a connection. Wow! A couple of years ago, that idea would have been laughed at, but clearly that’s changed.

In any case, for me, computer gaming really does need an internet connection.

Ok, so what about…

“… everything else?”

You get the picture and this post is getting too long.

I make music; it uses samples from (and gets saved back to) SoundCloud. I watch movies; they come from iTunes. My car dealer, dentist and family doctor all remind me of upcoming appointments via email, and almost all of my bills now come in the same way. I buy things from Amazon and pay by PayPal. When I travel my GPS app gets current traffic info from the web. When I buy coffee, I pay for it with my phone. I’m an avid reader of ebooks, but haven’t read a paper book in years…

It would take 10 more articles this long to capture all the ways I depend on the internet.

So, like I said, my entire life needs an internet connection. I’m actually ok with that. I’ve come to grips with the fact that we’ve crossed a boundary we can’t uncross. What about you?

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