My first reaction to the announcement of gmail, as Foolish Mortal will verify, was that the 1GB of mailbox storage would be a neat free backup solution. My home directory contains more than 1GB, but I probably only have a couple hundred MB of important stuff. Chances are that Google's got way better backup plans than I'll ever have the time or money to arrange --- fire, earthquakes, and bombs probably won't destroy all their data, and hundreds of simultaneous hard disk failures won't even make them flinch. I could sign up for gmail, and then mail my (suitably archived and encrypted) files to my gmail address in order to back them up.
Today I saw two very cool blog posts that make me realize I was thinking small potatoes. First up is Topix.net on "The Secret Source of Google'a Power"; and next, the post that actually led me to the first, J. Kottke on GooOS: the Google Operating System (even cooler than it sounds, although Kottke goes a little overboard with the starry-eyed predictions in the last couple of paragraphs).
This puts me in mind of an odd irony, which has been been noted so many times by now it's a cliché, but whatever. Back in the 50's, computers were these big honking things that took up entire rooms. People believed that, in the future, there would be dumb terminals everywhere that were connected to these massive supercomputers that would answer every question. In the 80's it became commonplace to scoff at this idea, because the personal computing revolution put little computers everywhere. Of course, people thought, that vision of big honking supercomputers that take up entire rooms is completely outdated. And now...
(Of course, to be strictly accurate, both visions were wrong. It's a commplace in ubituitous computing circles that once a technology becomes sufficiently advanced, it disappears as a technology per se, and becomes embedded in everything --- that, eventually, computers at all scales, from the microscopic to the gargantuan, will be a part of everyday life. Speaking of a "computer", as an "object that uses computation", will eventually be as rare as speaking of an "object that uses electricity" or an "object that uses physical force".)