As you’ve doubtless heard, Sony’s PlayStation Network has been down for several days now. The exact cause of this outage, being apparently affected by hackers of some stripe, is doubtless worth investigating. However, since those details haven’t been fully divulged yet, it’s best to wait on that front.
But this brings to light an increasing problem: the erosion of standalone functionality. PSN customers have not been able to access online content since April 20th. This is, of course, to be expected – if you shut off the network, the network is not available. Unfortunately, this extends to content which isn’t actually hosted on Sony’s network, since PlayStations use the PSN to connect to outside servers. Still, though, not surprising.
Vexingly, however, a certain amount of offline content has also been rendered unavailable, specifically several Capcom games which apparently need internet connection even for single-player mode. This seems to be an increasing trend in the software industry, in games of course, but in other software as well. Even software which has no need to be online, such as a word processing suite, increasingly needs to authenticate with a server in order to install. In fact, you might have noticed that most builds of MS Windows have just such an authentication requirement. And this is continuing to the next level: the Google CR-48 laptop as almost no functionality without an internet connection. Woe betide the user who truly does not want to ever connect a machine to the Internet!
But why would someone want to keep their computer offline?
Well, security, for one. The “airwall” remains the strongest form of security available; no code can ever bridge the gap of a true lack of connection. This isn’t solely the province of super secret government facilities, after all: medical facilities, industrial applications, and numerous other facilities can achieve higher security by dint of simply not connecting machines to the Internet when it is not needed.
Some may not be able to achieve an Internet connection, either due to cost or lack of infrastructure. As amazing as it may seem in 2011, Internet access is not available everywhere, nor to everyone.
But the most important reason is highlighted by this PSN debacle: why should Internet access be necessary? The Internet is a powerful, pervasive tool – but it’s not the end-all of the computing experience, and even now there’s no reason that a computer should be rendered a paperweight by simple lack of connection.