Maybe John Gage was right. Maybe the network is the computer.

Gage, chief researcher in the science office for Sun Microsystems, coined the phrase to illustrate the importance of the company he helped found. Sun still uses the tagline today.

Very appropriate, I'd say. So, apparently, would Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), which yesterday agreed to partner with salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM) by offering the latter's online customer service software with the formerly lightweight Google Apps suite.

It sounds cool, doesn't it? An entire business suite -- word processing, spreadsheets, customer management software -- all available via your Web browser. Mix in Adobe's (Nasdaq: ADBE) Flex technology, which makes browser-based applications available even when no connection is present, and it's becoming clear that software-as-service (SaaS) has an increasingly bright future.

Interestingly, Google's betting heavily on that future. DoubleGoo last week unveiled a preview version of "App Engine," which -- put simply -- frees up a portion of the search king's global infrastructure for the development of Web-based software. Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN) has something similar via its Web services offering.

The rub? The network (ahem) is the computer.

Or, maybe, "is going to be the computer." SaaS, while interesting, isn't yet displacing traditional software vendors. Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL), and SAP (NYSE: SAP) all still collect billions from applications you install on the machine on your desk or in your data center.

So let's take this for what it is: another step down a long road towards Gage's ultimate vision of network-centric computing. A vision that Google seems determined to realize.

Get your clicks with related Foolishness:

Amazon is a Stock Advisor selection. Microsoft is an Inside Value pick, Get free, unfettered access to the research and recommendations behind either of these market-beating services with a 30-day trial subscription.

Fool contributor and Rule Breakers team member Tim Beyers owned shares of Oracle at the time of publication. See Tim's portfolio here and read his latest blog entry. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy is more classy than sassy.