Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Return of the thin client

When I took my first college course back in 1982, the computer I worked on was not a desktop general purpose computer, but a mainframe. Access was through a terminal--the original thin client.

I remember sitting at the screen those first excited times, happy to be finally able to play with a real live computer after having watched so much sci-fi and then disappointed with how little I was able to do. But then again I was only 12. My mom had put me in a (boring) computer course at the local community college.

Regardless, the reality for computer use for quite a while was access to a mainframe from a terminal, which for some has never changed, while for most the pc, or personal computer was the general purpose device that gave them their first computer experience.

However, the thing is so powerful that for most it is a mysterious box. And for experienced computer users like myself, it is often a mysterious box, and as the disk drive light flashes, and I can hear it whirring, I often wonder to myself, what in the hell is it doing?

Today more specialized computing allows people more precision in fitting their needs, from these incredible mobile phones that do just about anything, to e-readers and who knows what else, you can specialize.

The web has emerged as kind of the ultimate mainframe.

And we can plug into it through our general purpose desktop computers, but I've found that often that is a waste of power as I spend all day on the web, doing things like, well like typing this blog post!

Why should I have a very powerful general purpose desktop wasting cycles on just using the super computer most people know as the World Wide Web?

So I'm quite happy that thin clients are back in force with the Chrome OS, and I kind of get an extra kick as a few years ago I was predicting the rise of the BOS, short for Browser Operating System.

The post was May 2008, and I titled it somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but I think that name is appropriate. Little did I know at that time that it would be over three years before I'd find time to comment on a company putting one on the market.

But then again, with ideas often it takes a little while, and hey, I get to toss out that I was one of the people predicting such a thing some time ago. Reading over what was a bit of a rant I have to chuckle, but also I feel gratified. I was, after all, right I'm sure.

As computing becomes more specialized we all benefit. Efficiency--machines that don't waste their time, or ours--is the result. And hey, maybe I can spend less time wondering what in the hell the computer is doing, as I know what it is doing.

It is working, for me.

James Harris
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