Web-based services, time-shared systems, and personal computers

May 20, 2008
Elkridge, MD, USA
Before personal computers were first introduced, there were two basic methods of using computers: 1/ submit a batch job to the computer management group, or 2/ use time-shared services. The former was used for almost all large jobs, the latter for small jobs, and for developing new software. Of course, once it became possible to run a job from the timeshare terminal and have the result printed on the big printer, the big jobs were also submitted from the terminal.

Introduction of the personal computer (esp. when their speed and storage capacity increased substantially) changed this - those who had the knowledge ran their jobs right on their desktop! We used to use awfully slow communications to get new programs and to deliver our results - but did it only when we had nothing else to do, and the communication link was working, and communication failure did not slow down our own computing. Broadband internet changed the volume of information feasible to transmit electronically. Alas, vendors reintroduced timesharing! It now goes under various labels, including "server-side computing", "hosted computing", etc. We now depend on a vendor to preserve our work! When the vendor's service becomes unavailable, we can just twiddle our thumbs... but cannot access our work! If we had a local copy (and few of us have systems so small that it would be a burden) we could only blame ourselves if we don't back it up.

Applicaiton: I want to be able to download all posts of interest to one or more of my systems, so I can access them even while traveling without internet access. That includes not only what others posted, but even what I posted myself, unless I have a very simple, foolproof way to save them before posting.
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