Feeds

Does 'Size Zero' desktop turn back the clock?

Pano Logic's thinnest client could change developer priorities

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Gartner critical capabilities for enterprise endpoint backup

You can never be too rich or too thin and it's hard not to be impressed by Pano Logic's arguments for a Size Zero desktop. Announced last week, the world's 'first truly virtualised desktop' has no software at all - operating across the network to a server-based instance of Microsoft Vista or XP. This makes it more secure (no local software to get corrupted), cheap (no local software to upgrade) and green (low power consumption). Pano Logic reckons it cuts total cost of ownership by 70 per cent - saving as much as $3,200 per desktop over three years.

In earlier times Pano Logic's Zero desktop might have been called a 3270, a VT100 or an X terminal. And the server carrying the software and the applications would have been called a 'mainframe' or a 'minicomputer'. But that was a long time ago and although memories keep getting bigger, they also tend to forget more quickly. There have, of course, been numerous attempts to re-invent the terminal, from Larry Ellison's Network Computer on down - but none of them have, so far, succeeded in ousting the desktop. If Pano Logic's new version of the terminal works as well as the company claims, it might just be the one that makes the breakthrough.

While it is all very worthy, the Zero desktop raises important issues for software developers. The combination of increased bandwidth in comms networks and the trend towards server virtualisation and thin clients means desktop software looks likely to decline and, perhaps, disappear altogether. The massive industry which, over the last 30 years, has grown around developing and supporting desktop software will inevitably suffer as attention shifts to server-based applications. More importantly, the level of skill required to design and build multi-user, multi-threaded, re-entrant code for server applications is significantly higher than that needed for single user dedicated desktop applications.

If the virtualisation software and the operating system work properly then application developers could be insulated from some of the added technical complexity. But this is a big 'if' and past experience suggests multi-user, server-based applications will be harder to build. They may even be beyond the skills of those who have only worked on single user desktop applications.

It is just 30 years since the late, great Professor Dr Edsger W. Dijkstra noted in his informal (and controversial) presentation to the 1977 IFIPS congress that 'microcomputers are not great'. Not only did he suggest that 'the simplicity provided by a large central store is perhaps even more striking than the simplicity provided by a fast central processor' he also railed against what he called 'computniks' - bad programmers.

"The microprocessor will provide at low material cost a delightful outlet for the uneducated computnik with nothing better to do, but the possibility of mass production of those infernal gadgets carries with it the danger of draining our intellectual powers to an extent that no society can afford."

Dijkstra, like many great men, was not always completely right, but in this case it is difficult to find fault with his argument. An awful lot of time and energy has been spent on building - and attempting to use - rubbish software on PCs in the last 30 years. Perhaps a return to the terminal/central server model of computing will herald a new age of better software and the demise of the 'computnik'. Then again, it was dissatisfaction and frustration with centralised computing which enabled the PC to thrive in the first place... ®

The essential guide to IT transformation

More from The Register

next story
Assange™: Hey world, I'M STILL HERE, ignore that Snowden guy
Press conference: ME ME ME ME ME ME ME (cont'd pg 94)
Premier League wants to PURGE ALL FOOTIE GIFs from social media
Not paying Murdoch? You're gonna get a right LEGALLING - thanks to automated software
Caught red-handed: UK cops, PCSOs, specials behaving badly… on social media
No Mr Fuzz, don't ask a crime victim to be your pal on Facebook
Ballmer quits Microsoft board to spend more time with his b-balls
From Clippy to Clippers: Hi, I see you're running an NBA team now ...
Online tat bazaar eBay coughs to YET ANOTHER outage
Web-based flea market struck dumb by size and scale of fail
Amazon takes swipe at PayPal, Square with card reader for mobes
Etailer plans to undercut rivals with low transaction fee offer
Call of Duty daddy considers launching own movie studio
Activision Blizzard might like quality control of a CoD film
US regulators OK sale of IBM's x86 server biz to Lenovo
Now all that remains is for gov't offices to ban the boxes
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.