Wednesday, May 10, 2006, 2:27 AM

What Must Happen

The future of digital identity is set in the context of the evolution of digital systems. This article might be a bit off topic (in that it is not specifically about digital identity), but I think it's important for us to consider the bigger context of the evolution of digital systems.


When trying to figure out what building technology, answering the question "what must happen" is a necessity. Not what would be good to happen, but what must happen...

Software that Runs Software: Software to-date have been built for human use. But because of the sheer numbers of systems we are exposed to, the next generation of software needs to be software that runs software -- for humans. Agents, or meta-applications, if you will.

Dominant Systems Define Standards: All these attempts to define standards just result in a mishmash of "standards". Just about the only way to create widely adopted protocols is to create a dominant system, and then open it up. For example, Skype has a tremendous opportunity to set an industrial standard, if they open up fast enough and flexibly enough.

Sandboxes vs Always-On: (i.e. P2P vs Client/Server). Because the physical still matters, and ownership still matters, sandboxes are still needed, and will always be needed. Even if it is possible to be always on the network, the user might not choose to refer to a network resource, but rather, have a copy of it he/she manages. For example, instead of pointing to a web page on a website owned by someone else, the use might want a copy kept in his/her own blog or wiki -- just in case the owner changes it, or stops exporting it.

ASP systems (e.g. ultimately will reach full functionality only if they provides P2P facilities.

Synchronization Must Be Done Right: A corollary to the sandboxing trend is that synchronization as a science and engineering technique must be done right.

Lego My Servers: Servers are too complicated to set up and to run. Future servers will come in "Lego" building block format. Run out of disk space on your email server? Plug another email server "brick" next to your first, and the problem is solved. Want redundancy? Buy another two bricks, put them else where, point them to the first pair, and you will have a hot-fail-over system. The bricks will be very specialized: email server, web server, directory server, file server, system admin servers, dataservers, etc.

Of course strong security, including strong digital identity, is required in server bricks.

Evolutionary Revolutions: Respect Legacy. Systems that do not respect and work with legacy systems will fail (unless they perform a function heretofore did not exist). That's why, also, the next generation of software will be meta-applications.

WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN (Normative Statements)

Here are a couple of things I believe should happen, but might not because short term commercial drivers might not be there to make them happen ...

Software for the Long Haul: All too often, we design software without thinking about the long haul. For example, 4-byte IP address space (which has long since run out of room) and 32-bit time integer in Unix (which will expire in 2038). See

Basic Software Engineering: Professional software engineering means that we hold ourselves up to the highest engineering standards. Basic issues like designing for testability, internationalization, code coverage, error handling, UI useability, etc. needs to be part of what we do day-to-day in Software Engineering -- otherwise, we should just call it hacking.

[This article was initially written on December 2005.]

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