Google revives ‘network computer’ with dual-OS assault on MS
Chrome OS injects new life into netbooks and thin clients
One of the great ironies of this year is that Google and Oracle – now owner of Sun and Java – are locked in legal combat. The irony stems from the fact that, even as they bicker, the concept they did more than anyone else to create is back in the limelight. This is what we used to call the thin client, which then morphed into the netbook and now the cloudbook.
In previous iterations, the vision was stymied by the lack of reliable broadband connectivity everywhere, and effectively hijacked by Microsoft. Will the Windows giant, this time around, lose out to the approach conceived by Sun, Oracle and Google – a stripped-down device with long battery life and minimal local storage or apps, connecting for its data and services to the cloud (which we used to call the server)? Google pitched its latest definition of the thin client, with the launch of Chrome OS and a next generation netbook, just after Microsoft shipped its latest – and probably strongest – attempt at finally gaining a position in the mobile world, where the cloud will increasingly have its heart.
The thin client reinvented
Back in 1997, Oracle chief Larry Ellison and Microsoft‟s Bill Gates went head-to-head on stage at a technology conference in Paris, with Ellison unleashing the new approach to computing he had cooked up with Scott McNealy, then head of Sun, and designed to kill the traditional "fat" PC with its growing software, memory and storage burden. Oracle and Sun floated the concept of thin, internet-connected clients and were joined later by Google, with its broad vision of putting every app and every piece of data and content in the cloud, to be accessed by a widening range of always-connected, slimline and mobile gadgets.
“A PC is a ridiculous device. What the world really wants is to plug into a wall to get electronic power, and plug in to get data,” said Ellison at the time.
Back then, the client device was called the "network computer", but it largely failed because of user wariness of letting their data and apps out of their own hands (still a major factor, which sees smartphones gaining ever larger memories), and because always-on connectivity was not available, so the concept was largely chained to the desk. Ellison said at the launch of the network computer: "We'll see hundreds of thousands of machines shipped in the first year. Very quickly, we'll see entire industry move to this model. By the year 2000, NCs will outsell personal computers."
This prediction worked out like most such forecasts for the latest big thing in devices.
But the idea did help shift thinking, and it has been revived multiple times since, each time with greater impact as ubiquitous, broadband-class connectivity inched towards reality, and with it, the notion that the cloud could actually work. We saw Sun's network business appliance Corona in 1998, its Sun Ray consumer device in 2000, and a new Javastation after that. The netbook was the most serious attempt so far in form factor terms. It was conceived as a thin client, with long battery life, high portability and constant connection to the web, but limited local storage and no hard disk.
In reality, there were technical flaws in the plan: the scarcity of reliable multi-Mbps 3G; teething problems with translating the ARM/Linux combination of the smartphone to a larger device; the entrenched position of Windows in the netbook's business base; and the lack of a really workable Linux choice, with Android still immature and geared to small screens. So most netbooks were, in reality, low cost and low power Wintel mini-notebooks with hard drives – useful enough for their portability, but not a radical departure, and strictly a companion product rather than a PC killer.
Chrome OS makes its debut
Microsoft had won again, but the more mobile the cloud becomes, the weaker its advantages are in the evolution of the client. So now we see the NC/netbook concept reinvented again, this time as the cloudbook, running Google‟s new platform, Chrome OS. This could create a two-pronged attack on Windows. One on hand, Android on phones, and moving towards larger screened tablets and other devices with the release, next year, of version 3.0 or Honeycomb. And on the other, Chrome OS, initially for keyboarded products, mainly a new generation of netbooks – and looking towards a whole new breed of devices, with various form factors, but all basically providing a browser appliance for optimised access to cloud services and streamed content.
Google showed off the first tablets running Chrome OS this week, a year after first announcing its second operating system. The search giant has often sent mixed messages about where its new platform fits – a rival to Windows on netbooks; a base for a whole new class of web-oriented devices; an alternative to Android more in tune with its carrier-free, open web vision. The answer is probably that it will be all three, in time, but for now its initial aims are to attract a strong developer community, preferably from Windows, and to get the netbook concept back on its cloudy track, and away from Microsoft.
The initial Chrome OS devices look like netbooks, and the aim seems to be to evolve that form factor into something that can regain hype lost to the tablet, and firmly geared to always-on cloud/browser services. The resulting cloudbook or Chromebook is yet another product that, like tablets and smartphones, could boost overall use of web services (and adverts).
The first hardware demonstrated was a prototype, called CR-48 – just a plain unbranded netbook that developers and partners can use. The actual notebooks and netbooks promised by Acer, Samsung and others are now delayed until mid-2011, at least six months later than originally expected.
Next page: Verizon muscles in
...same old same old.
Ask youself this...Why?
Here the simple answer. How many people use old XP machines, with old copies of Office, old photoshops, old coipes of this and that. Why, well it works, they are used to it and they don't want to pay to upgrade.
Now with the new cloudy solution, you can, sorry WILL, have the latest version whether you like it or not. Don't want a Facebook connecter in your office app. Tough shit, they think it's a good idea, so you'll have it.
Next, you haven't paid for that app for a decade, well that's not on. Now you get to use the new shitter version for a mere £5 a month, sorry £6, no wait £10, but hey it comes with a new facebook plugin!
You no what, we've decide we don't want to provide this service anymore as it's costs to much money. yeah yeah, I know you have all your work on the, but hey, fuck off, like we care. However for a mere £50 a month you can migrate to our new "premium" platform,,. complete with twitter addon. You have 14 days from the mail to get you stuff off. Ahh your away for 2 weeks, oh well.
An efficient suction pump in search for your wallet.
Dear Lord, so many will fall for this trick! A vast amount of stupidity has accumulated and time has come for it to be monetized. In the country where I was born, there's an old saying for this kind of situation : those who would not open their eyes will soon open their purse.
20 year old code in linux vs 20 year old MS code
20 year old code in linux (or older) is, by and large, still there because it was done properly 20 years ago. 20 year old microsoft code is, in many cases, still there because they mismanaged the migration/compatibility process coming up from the mud of CP/M and DOS, and can't fix it now without breaking things that are far newer than CPM and DOS. Try creating a file called 'con.txt' or even 'Con.Air.divx.avi' on your windows machine. The reasons why you can't do this represent a pretty big fail. And, it's too late now: many (even brand new) apps need to know certain names are impossible to avoid being DOSd, so MS can't fix it without breaking all those apps. This is just one example. Also, drive letters. Drive letters? in 2010?
Who owns the data? And what if the service is shut down because they think you violate the TOS?
For the IPad, I agree they aren't PC replacements, but even for this:
"but mainly ones PCs aren't very good at – anything involving touch, of course, plus viewing videos or books"
Since when were netbooks and laptops not good at this? I do both just fine on mine. And I'd say they're better suited, as you can just place it on your lap with the screen angled just right, where as the IPad has to be held in your hands.
"not just netbooks, whose popularity as the leading companion device has already been eclipsed by the tablet."
Tablets now sell more than netbooks? Since when?
"However, according to DisplaySearch analysts, if the iPad is categorised as a mobile PC rather than an oversized iPhone, Apple is now the largest mobile PC vendor in the US,"
Worldwide, they're smaller than HP and ACER ( http://www.reghardware.com/2010/12/07/displaysearch_q3_2010_mobile_pc_sales/ ). And as that article points out, it ignores smartphones; Nokia sell way more than Apple. It's a rather contrived statistic to handpick a category that counts the IPad as a "mobile PC", but not other handheld mobile computing devices.
Talking of Nokia, it's odd to have an article covering all the alternatives, but to ignore the number one smartphone company.
I'll have what he's drinking
I was part of the IBM Software strategy team back when the IBM Network Station was first punted around, I'd been campaigning for a long time(1988) to get a better approach to corporate end user computing that was more x-terminal like and less PC like. This presentation was one I gave between 1988 and the late 1990's I won best session at a couple of conferences with it.
The IBM Network Station had a few pluses, it was "mostly" based on the Network Computer profile that Oracle/IBM et al were championing at the time, but it really failed for the following reasons IMHO
1. It was network boot - if you didn't have connectivity, or the boot server was unreachable you couldn't work
2. APPS, APPS, APPS - the real loss was not enough Java apps available at the get-go, and poor Java graphics. As soon as you ended up having to do Remote Terminal into a Windows server for the bulk of your work, it drove up the centralized server costs and network bandwidth became a problem. Hard to remember back then wireless was rare, ethernet not 100% reliable and bottlenecked in datacenter often
3. Lack of local memory even for caching - they typically had only very limited local memory, which effected everything for web pages to Java app load time as there really wasn't enough based on the then price of memory.
4. Lack of a good, cross platform single sign-on facility. We take the pervasiveness of LDAP and active directory for granted inside organizations for granted now, they were not back then and there was NO OpenID or similar.
Funny how the pendulum swings, old is new again. A beer? I wish I had one for every old technology thats come back as new...