I can't stop thinking about the network computer.
Okay, I'm not losing sleep or anything, but ever since I got to hear Lawrence Ellison talk about the network computer at a conference a few w eeks ago, I can't stop thinking about it.
Ellison is CEO of Oracle Corporation. I caught his sales pitch at an online media conference as he tried to sell a roomful of newspaper executives on the idea behind the network computer.
For those of you who don't know what an NC is, think of it as a scaled-down desktop computer. Or think of it as a dumb terminal with a slightly bigger brain. Just don't think of it as a regular computer, because it's a very different concept.
In terms of hardware, if you were converting your existing computer to a network computer, the first thing you would do is rip out the hard drive. Then, you'd install it lot more memory and some kind of connection to the outside world, like an ethernet c ard or a fast modem.
The real difference lies in its operation.
Think about how everyone uses a computer in today's world. When you want to write a memo, do some email, or surf the web, you end up going through a lot of trouble just to get the computer to do a relatively simple task. Someone has to install all the correct software, and configure it so it works with that specific computer. Not only that, but they have to constantly make it work right with other software, and make sure it's the newest version, and check for computer viruses, and connect new things to it, and...and...
Computers get complex because they are each their own little world, with their own memory and storage, application, software and a million other things to make them work right. If you're a computer-oriented person, this is probably fine, be cause you might not mind dealing with those thousands of details. If you're a typical person who has to use a computer, though, you just want the box to do what it's told and not give you a hard time.
The NC concept simplifies everything by making it a network based machine. When you want to do email, all the NC does is grab the email software from the server. When you want to write a memo, all it grabs is the word processor - and when you want to save that memo, it sends it back to the server when you're done - leaving nothing on the NC itself.
As Ellison put it, the NC is basically "taking the computer off your desktop" and just giving you what you need depending on what you want to do. All those picky details still exist, but only on one machine - the one that runs the network - so the user doesn't have to deal with them.
The NC is also based on industry standards. So, if you write something on an NC, it'll be saved in a form that's readable by any computer - Unix, Windows, Mac, whatever. This also means that anyone can build an NC, or write software for them, because industry standards are just that - they're standard. And because industry standards may change, the companies that are lining up to build the NC's are getting together to work out the NC standard details ahead of time. As it stands now, the companies building the NC's will put a 'N|C' logo on the front to signify that the box is a true, standard-based network machine.
NC's are cheap, too. Right now it's looking like they'll wind up at around $500 per machine once they start mass production.
And, yes, they also look cool. Since an NC doesn't have to have all the 'guts' of a regular computer, they can be pretty slim, and a few companies are getting creative with how the NC will look.
I could go on, but I won't. It's just that after getting the lowdown on the NC, I can't stop thinking of all kinds of perfect uses for them. On campus, it's easy to come up with ideas. Stick one in every dorm room. Replace all the dead and dumb terminals in the terminal labs with NC's for a fraction of the cost of a regular computer lab. Put them in the TA's offices and get the last few technophobes used to doing email. Heck, sell them on campus, bundled with reduced-rate Internet access by making the sc hool the network provider. The list goes on...
Thinking on a larger scale, the NC is going to spread like mad. The bottom line is that NC's make using a computer very easy, for a very low cost, with very low maintenance. And while the NC is not meant to replace the desktop for jobs that require more c omputing power and capabilities, they're the perfect replacement for those everyday uses like email, word processing, data entry, and surfing the web.
What really made the NC stick out in my mind is that the idea behind the NC is kind of a no-brainer. Why didn't someone think of this before now? Why did we put up with years of competing standards, software that gets outdated every six months, not to men tion hardware that gets outdated every 24 hours? Why did we read all those manuals?
What were we thinking?