If you close your eyes tightly and consider the future of the Internet, what does your mind's eye see? Most of us would say "Depends on the day!" Fair enough. Let me share with you what I will call Net Model X for a moment. This is just a capture of one of the possibilities.
The vision starts with deep breathing and relaxation: relaxing the arguments of peer-peer vs. cloud computing, thin vs. thick client, and all the other computing debates. These all become options instead of preferences. Addressing becomes automated and simplified - it disappears. The Internet is a smart, flexible cloud that supports client-server, peer-peer, as well as cloud computing ecosystems concurrently and effortlessly with a special new twist: if you want a computer or server, the cloud simply provides it to you. You don't need a box with memory and disk drive if you want a server. No, all you do is birth a virtual machine inside either your router or the service providers router or a dedicated virtual store on the network. You select the server software of your choice from an online OS vending machine, it installs and you can configure it. You can make this server private or public. Again, addressing is meaningless and fully automated.
The appliance you use can still certainly have disks and memory if you need it (developers likely will), but most of us simply have a killer I/O appliance (a table sized HD screen that can integrate multiple "desktops" with a physical motion detector so my hand becomes the "mouse" and of course the irreplaceable keyboard in the form of a foldable mat that can be standard size, compact or supper compact) and Net Model X does the rest. If I need a farm of servers, then this is provided to me by a service provider attached to the Net Model X. I can install software from a SW Vending machine if I want or use network based applications.
Net Model X costs me money to use. I am billed based on an algorithm that combines processing MIPS with memory consumption and application usage metering plus support - taxing me is eliminated. This billing can be offset by advertising - but a more effective advertising - one that is controlled by me - on things I have interest in. The more I accept advertising, the less my bill is. Advertisers have to pay more to get to hard to reach people, therefore offsetting the higher costs of their services. Regardless, I have consumed less hardware and using less power/cooling/heating at home or work lowering my carbon footprint and lessening the land fill burden of my upgrades. I am also able to do more without as much travel - the usual benefits of networking all still apply. The point is that Net Model X is easily paid for in savings that the technology provides.
My vision of Net Model X blurs quickly in areas like the evolution of television to non-existence, replaced by my ability to watch content as selected from a Video Vending Machine. News and current events will be available in the evolved Twitter model where individuals provide feeds - I can select an event from a global perspective, zoom into the event and then select from one of many feeds to view or listen - like a director would in a TV studio. Social Networking has evolved on Net Model X to one giant tool embedded in Net Model X that like the television director model I can build my circle zoom into the circle and interface with anyone in my circle as needed. The Net X Model also has a new search and information retrieval system that is 1000 times more powerful and accurate than today's grazing model. The ability to focus searching is built into the tools preventing or allowing search results that are more accurate. I'll stop here in this blurry part of the vision since I don't want to confine your imagination on where all this part could go!
So how does distributing and providing Net Model X work? A few more deep breaths and concentration. Delivery requires dedicated teams of people - today's service providers, to deploy the bandwidth, maintain the bandwidth freeways. They are the new "Geek Squad". They are more trained, more knowledgeable than ever before. If Net Model X is broken for someone, then someone has to be reachable locally and in a distributed fashion. They need to have local language and ecosystem knowledge. They provide the bandwidth and the support and earn part of my bill for doing so. I am not sure how long the multiple provider model exists in the Net Model X. After all, for some, it has never existed! It really does not matter, until everyone is served by one method, options will exist.
Mind you, this vision of Net Model X is not completely out of the question. There are a number of network innovations and directions that already hint of this vision as being a real possibility. Then again, now that I am discussing it with the readers of this blog, Murphy's Law will apply, and some of it may never happen. Time will tell.