n this column I'll be discussing new ways in which OS/2 can be used in both the consumer and corporate world, with technology that exists both today and which may be developed in the future. My purpose is not to say what should be done, but what could be done, to feed a steady stream of ideas out there that may be picked up by others with the means to see them through, or merely to underline the fact that OS/2 does have a future.
If you wish to contribute your own ideas, discuss ideas already presented here, or read what others have to say, then jump into our Hypernews forum. I'll be checking it regularly to see what you have to say.
The vision of Network Computing as seen by Oracle and IBM leaves very little room for the individual. Network Computers are designed to be cheap boxes, deployed in the thousands across a factory floor and office block, drawing applications and files from a server costing tens of thousands of dollars. Its purpose is to bring back the Mainframe and Terminal era and the efficiency, cheapness, scalability and robustness associated with it. If an NC breaks, it's cheaply replaced. No precious files or user preferences or phone books are lost as everything is stored on the server. Plus, as a worker roams across the plant, any NC he touches becomes his own personal workstation, with his own desktop and applications and preferences intact.
This scenario is highly desirable for companies besieged with Windows crashes, staggering upgrade and "Cost of Ownership" expenses, high failure rates and crippling data loss. But is it really desirable for the home user who cannot afford the cost of even just the server itself?
The name of the product IBM has placed its Network Computer technology into is called Workspace On Demand, or "WSOD" for short. It's based on Warp Server and performs several admirable feats such as booting a computer across the network and providing a "roaming desktop" that follows you from computer to computer. It's designed to make use of the hundreds of obsolete PCs that are scattered around almost every company in the world -- old PCs with small hard drives, weak processors and shallow amounts of RAM. If the server makes up for these deficiencies somehow, then all those junk PCs become usable and valuable again, saving the company a write-off.
But question yourself: what characteristics of WSOD would be nice to have in your home? Would you like to roam from bedroom to living room and have your desktop and applications follow you to the computer you keep there? Would you like these and your personal files to be kept separate from other members of the family?
If you look at some of the devices in your home today you'll see that some are already using the ideas of Network Computing in some form or another. Your telephones, for example, need to store no particular preferences. Chances are your phone company offers a speed-dial service, where your favorite numbers are stored at their exchange. Plug any phone into an outlet, press two buttons and you have Grandma, or your sister, or your lawyer. The phone itself didn't need to remember those numbers in some kind of built in memory (even though there are ones that do), neither did it need to be any special kind of phone at all.
There's also evidence to show that home owners and small business owners are no strangers to the "Client/Server" model that requires a high up-front expense but low continuing expenses. For example, some homes have a Central Vac where a vacuum cleaner is installed in the basement and an outlet for the hose is available on every floor. And we all have a central boiler feeding hot water to every faucet, instead of boiling cold water in a kettle every time we want to wash the dishes or take a bath. Far removed from PCs, but the idea is to show that home users might be willing to pay for the same types of scheme, applied to computers.
So paying about $1,000 to $1,500 for a server that's installed in the basement or closet to feed a home network of cheap NCs costing under $500 each (coming down to $200 or less as Moore's law and competition do their trick) now starts to sound realistic. At this price range it's affordable to put an NC in every room of your home or every office of your small business while retaining all the benefits we bought our expensive PCs for. If WSOD is installed on the server (which ideally would be a closed box with only one or two buttons and no keyboard or screen) then you've got the stability that makes it practical (no screen to go blue, no keyboard to press CTRL-ALT-DEL on) and the technology to make it desirable.
For those reading this article right now you probably already have a computer with enough power to be the server and maybe some junkers lying around that can be utilized as NCs, thus saving you a bundle already. Your slow machines can be e-mail checkers and web browsers that you keep in the kitchen, while your son (or you) has a Pentium to play games on in his bedroom.
It is with regret that I say IBM probably won't do much to grease the tracks for this particular use of their technology. The motives behind their reasons for pulling out of the "small guys" market haven't changed since they quietly altered OS/2's focus two years ago. But it is not out of the reach for third parties to do it since the bulk of the technology has already been developed by IBM and would work superbly in the scenario I've described. What remains to be handled now is the packaging of WSOD. Could someone make a package of the server, software, cabling, network cards and instructions ready to sell to home users and small business owners?
I'll wager that there are already some hobbyists experimenting with ideas like this one and achieving some degrees of success. There was quite some excitement over the porting of the VNC client (Virtual Network Computer) to OS/2 a few weeks ago, which allowed one to control an application running on a Windows or Unix machine remotely from a box running Warp (or any other platform). The beauty of VNC is that the client machine is stateless, meaning that if the computer you're using for a remote control dies on you suddenly, the application you were controlling is still running on the server unaffected. You can move to a different computer, login, and literally resume from the same file and cursor position you left off at.
So I hope this answers a 'Yes' to the question: Is Network Computing for the little guy too? Clearly there are many benefits that home and small-business users can enjoy just as well as the Megacorporations can.
Comments? Ideas of your own? Join in the discussion with our Hypernews forum.
Sam Henwrich is an upstate NY OS/2 user. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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