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filling the void

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

From Thin Client to PC and Back Again

Back in the day, normal people couldn't afford computers. Computers were lumbering behemoths the size of apartments, and if you wanted on one, you had to either be at some university, or in the employ of a wealthy technology company. Even when you were in a position to get to use computers, you did it in a time-share basis, from what was then known as a terminal, and what is now known as a thin client. Multiple users per computer, and the computer was rarely, if ever, in the same room (or even building, city or state) that you were in.
As technology progresses, computers became smaller and less expensive, until the point where they started moving in to people's living rooms, and started fulfilling the dream of a computer in each home. People wanted their own computers because of the speed they provided, and the simplicity, and for a myriad of other reasons. Now however, with the advent of broadband in (almost) every house and things like Google Docs (Office replacement usable in your browser), we are moving away from the powerful home computer, and putting all our information and computing power needs in large servers. If this trend progresses, the only home "computers" we will need will be thin shells of systems whose only functionality will be to connect us to the big mainframes to fulfill all our computing needs.
This is the next step in evolution, and it is considered by the hype mongers as the next big thing. For whatever reasons, this is seen mostly as a good thing, however not everyone agrees.
While doing some computation on a remote basis can be a good idea, me and others believe that it might not be the end-all-be-all solution to computing for the next century.

The thing is that people who advocate this has lost sight of why people wanted home computers in the first place. The problem is that when everybody has invested in solutions like this, they will come to their senses and scream for their home computers back. Slowly, a new home computer market will emerge, and in a while we will be back to using powerful workstations sitting under our desks, or in our laps. Until someone claims that thin clients and working against a central computer is the way to go, and the circle repeats once more.

This might not necessarily be an evil thing, but for the sake of economy and progress, I would really like for us to strike a balance between home computers and mainframes sooner rather than later. Seeing as how technology companies are only interested in selling you new stuff, they would be delighted if we go from one end to the spectrum to the other every 25 years, but I think that it would be detrimental to the speed of development and to the wallets of the computer users in the world if we did.
If we could find a balance quicker, and then put all effort into making the technology that exists in that balanced state better, if we can get everybody putting money and effort into a common goal, we can become more technologically advanced (or as the marketers would say, get more for less, or better performance for less money, call now!) in a shorter time span, and I think that everyone who isn't a Luddite or Amish can agree that that is mostly a good thing™.

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