The following text is copyright 1997 by Network World, permission is hearby given for reproduction, as long as attribution is given and this notice is included.
Is a NC more than PC?
Many years ago there was a magazine ad that showed a corporate board room, complete with impressive and vast highly polished table with a bunch of live chickens wandering around on it. The tag line was 'The board just voted to buy IBM again." In those days "going blue" was the safe, almost politically correct thing to do. I wonder if network computers (NCs) will start to become the politically correct technology to embrace.
About the time of that magazine ad, mainframeism was at its zenith. All computing functions of a corporation were performed using the mainframe. The "glass house" controlled all technology aspects of a corporation. While this almost absolute power may or may not have bred corruption it too often bred arrogance. In too many places the view from the trenches was of an organization unresponsive to the needs of its customers, with inflexible services that were too expensive, and whose decisions were seen as arbitrary, capricious and final.
The introduction of personal computers and the development of workgroup-based operating systems, such as Novell NetWare, permitted the people in the trenches to fight back. They could establish their own local mini computing facility. One which they could control and change as their needs changed. The term client-server changed from meaning desktop systems interacting with mainframes to mean desktops interacting with workgroup servers.
The mainframe people decried this trend loud and long. They pointed out that few workgroup systems could support the quality of service functions that mainframes could and that the operators of workgroup servers did not have a clue what was meant by a "service level agreement". And then there is the fact that the local people don't back up their machines etc. etc. The development of network computers give the residents of the glass house a new weapon in their fight.
In days of old, users interacted with the mainframe computers via terminals. A terminal is basically a keyboard/display and sometimes printer combination that reflects what the mainframe wants rather than running its own user-level applications. Terminals do run very simple applications that support the remote computer's commands to modify what is on the display. A network computer is sort of a terminal on steroids. Its "built in" applications, often actually downloaded when needed, are fancier but the mission is the same.
Network computers are designed to work with "corporate servers". A corporate server could easily have quite a bit more computing power than the mainframe of the past but we don't want to call it a mainframe, time to discard the old image. Note that IBM is doing just fine in the corporate server business, thank you.
I expect that the pendulum will continue to swing toward the glass house and that network computers will become an important part of the corporate landscape, at the expense of the workgroup world. Until that old arrogance comes out of the background again. Then it will be time for another cycle.
disclaimer: Harvard, arrogance? Perish the thought. Anyway the above are my own opinions.