Sharing the wealth

Nobody wants to share any more. If a new technology emerges, or a small start-up starts to succeed, invariably larger companies move to stifle, smother or manipulate the new technology rather than embrace it, and foster what may be a great innovation. The idea that technology - like many other pursuits where we work together for the common good of humankind - often feels like a long-lost notion. Instead it feels as if we are working towards the common greed of humankind.

And it is not just the companies that have lost that sharing feeling. Only recently a friend working in IT management was lamenting the closed shop mentality among their colleagues. Not only did this person's colleagues not want to work as a team and assist one another, but their response was one of, "Well I learnt the hard way and so should you". The reason - again greed. Protecting one's knowledge and monopolising it purely to achieve greater financial rewards is nothing new.

While I am unsure if this is a purely Australian IT experience, or even confined to this industry, I am sure that this mentality in the workplace will only lead to frustration among technology enthusiasts and professionals alike. It will possibly draw them to environments (and probably add to the brain drain overseas) where a shared knowledge is encouraged.

Yet against this backdrop, the recent Intel Developers Forum seems like a breath of fresh air. Among all the recent and continued attempts to shut down Napster (and anyone who reads PC World will be well abreast of this issue) most of the issues have surrounded copyright infringements and the pirating of the information. But what of the technology behind it and file sharing itself?

While Napster has popularised and raised the awareness of music file sharing for consumers, Intel believes that the ramifications for business could be limitless.

Speaking at the forum, Pat Gelsinger, Intel's vice president and general manager of Intel's Desktop Products Group, said that businesses could save millions of dollars each year by harnessing unused processing power and storage resources across their PC networks and throughout the Internet. In peer-to-peer networking, individual computers talk to one another, allowing the tasks to be managed among those computers instead of or in addition to a centralised network.

And while Intel is leading the charge, it has also got some big names interested in pursuing the technology. Companies including IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and several start-up companies in-volved in peer-to-peer computing, including Entropia and Groove Networks, are coming together to define new protocols and overcome significant concerns of reliability and security.

Security is an issue that no-one should be complacent about when file sharing, although it is important to note that companies will not be foolish enough to open up a million-dollar system for anyone to play with.

Intel is also in discussions with Microsoft about it joining the working group. Gelsinger said Microsoft's .Net strategy is "clearly a complementary technology" to the peer-to-peer concept.

One industry analyst at the forum was quick to point out that companies may be more willing to invest in the latest processors and PCs if they thought that the system would be fully utilised in the company. Today many desktop PCs are not.

So is file sharing the future of the Internet? Gelsinger compared the importance of peer-to-peer networking with the introduction of the Mosaic Internet browser. "Peer-to-peer computing could usher in the next generation of the Internet, much as we saw Mosaic usher in the last era," Gelsinger said.

Intel's motives for backing peer-to-peer computing are not hard to fathom. The model depends on pooling the resources of thousands or even millions of PCs. Death of the mainframe? Let's wait and see.