The Big Switch : Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google, Hardback

The Big Switch : Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google Hardback

4 out of 5 (16 ratings)


A hundred years ago, companies stopped producing their own power with steam engines and generators and plugged into the newly built electric grid.

The cheap power pumped out by electric utilities not only changed how businesses operated but also brought the modern world into existence.

Today a similar revolution is under way. Companies are dismantling their private computer systems and tapping into rich services delivered over the Internet.

This time it's computing that's turning into a utility.

The shift is already remaking the computer industry, bringing new competitors like Google to the fore and threatening traditional stalwarts like Microsoft and Dell.

But the effects will reach much further. Cheap computing will ultimately change society as profoundly as cheap electricity did.

In this lucid and compelling book, Nicholas Carr weaves together history, economics, and technology to explain why computing is changing-and what it means for all of us.




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Showing 1 - 5 of 16 reviews.

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The Big Switch talks about the business impact of the internet and computing as a service, drawing a comparison to the evolution of electricity from custom implementations to a big utility. The historical discussion is interesting, though I'm not convinced that the analogy will hold with the informational aspects of computing. In the latter part of the book, Carr talks about some of the social impacts that we're seeing, which speaks as a warning to me. The internet is polarizing beliefs and eroding personal privacy, and I don't think we've figured out the full consequence of this. The one criticism I'll make of the book is that while Carr does a good job discussing the issues, I don't feel that he really presents any novel predictions or solutions.

Review by

I found the parallels between the evolution of the delivery of electricity from self-contained generator systems to the modern-day grid and the evolution of personal computing applications from desktop to the cloud to be fascinating, and a good argument for cloud computing. However, once making that argument, the author proceeds to show his true colors as an anti-technology, privacy-focused, <i>Matrix</i>-fearing Luddite. Disappointing.

Review by

In the Big Switch, Nicholas Carr walks readers through the history of electrification and computing. The early years of electrification were technologically limited - an electrical grid wasn't feasible and electricity was generated locally. Technology changed over time and electricity was rapidly centralized and networked. Power was produced remotely and delivered via a vast network of wires and cables. Over time, technology changed the way we live and do business. Based on this historical context, he draws a metaphor between electrification and the current model of computing. We're coming from a client-server model to a new model, what Carr calls "Utility Computing". He argues, like electrification, this is mostly facilitated by advances in network technology. In a utility computing environment, some firms act as utilities and merely provide a platform, while others develop applications to run on this platform. He cites Amazon's EC2 (Elastic Computing Cloud) and S3 (Simple Storage) services as examples; Amazon provides a centralized utility that users can quickly and at marginal cost, tap in to and rapidly develop scalable applications.To people in the computing industry, Carr isn't saying anything new. Many of us are in the middle of transitioning our own applications from an older client-server model to a web-based or utility based model. However, I think Carr does a great job at building the metaphor between electrification and computing. While, they are very different types of services, the historical context he clearly lays out shows how network effects can disrupt existing models of utility.However, I think Carr should have spent more time discussing some of the social implications of this technological shift. Just like how electrification changed the way we socially interact, utility computing has the power to do the same. Utility computing affords more decentralization and standardization of application development. What kind of impact is this going to have on highly complex businesses and what are the implications for users and managers? Some would argue that the technological development of Groupware in the 1980s had major social impacts on social relations in a business context. Likewise, I think utility computing will have similar effects. I wish Carr would have approached some of these more complex social questions in further detail.Otherwise, from someone working in the industry - I think Carr is right on the button and this book is definitely a "must read" for someone in the information industry.

Review by

Don't walk, run to your nearest bookstore to read Carr's dazzling THE BIG SWITCH. If you can only read one book in 2008 this should be it. The writing is clean, pure as spring water and thoughtful. Carr makes the coming "information utility" simple for the layman to understand. The description of the development of electricity and its impact on society is fascinating and lays the groundwork for the likely outcome of the information age over the next few decades. I enjoyed this book.

Review by

An excellent read. Carr has succeeded in writing intelligently about computers and computing without resorting to jargon or arcane technical descriptions. The first half of the book lays out Carr's central argument that computing is shifting to more of a centrally supplied, utility model, following the pattern of mechanical power's evolution a hundred years ago - with the Internet's "computing grid" serving as an analog to the electric grid. Our PCs are turning into network terminals, used mainly to draw data and software from the Internet. The second half of the book looks at what may happen as the computing grid - or the "World Wide Computer" - makes computing functions ever cheaper and more easily available. There are some persuasive and unsettling chapters about the effects of the next generation of computing on wealth distribution, privacy, and even the functioning of the mind. The book covers a lot of ground quickly but is rich with stories and revealing anecdotes.

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