The Return Of The Network PC?

from the oh-yes,-the-network-is-the-computer dept

Nicholas Carr received plenty of attention in the last year or so for suggesting that IT was becoming commoditized and therefore “didn’t matter,” even if commoditized products do matter quite a bit to most businesses. Now, he’s apparently discovered the network PC and is wondering why anyone still buys a desktop PC. There are some valid points that he’s making. As applications increasingly become networked, it makes less sense (on the face of it) to have so much computing power at the ends of the system. Companies could save money by simply buying internet-connected terminals and letting everything happen online. There are two problems with this theory. First is the reason why every networked computing attempt has struggled in the last decade: the network doesn’t always work and people want local content. Second, and more importantly, is that those “spare” cycles on these desktops actually represent not “wasted” computing power for companies, but more of an “untapped resource.” Distributed applications are becoming more common, and not all of them are completely server-based, as Carr is implying. Many run from desktop to desktop (P2P, if you like). While not all of these need vast computing power, there are clearly opportunities to leverage the power of computers at the end, rather than leaving it all up to things in the middle. There are, obviously, some applications where network computing ideas make sense, but it’s going to be quite some time before everyone is throwing out their desktop computers.

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Comments on “The Return Of The Network PC?”

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TK says:

Simply more B.S.

Larry Ellison aside, it’s just not realistic to *go backward*.

Case in point: I’m part of a team from my firm working with a Big Telco who’s rollng out interactive TV starting late this year, and cooperatively, we’re working with the large OS and various other tech vendors on the project.

18 months into this project, the Telco team is realizing that the low-cost set-top boxes they’ve contracted to buy/deploy (the specs are essentially identical to any “Network Computer”) is *not powerful enough to meet demand*. Imagine their surprise when their application requirements read like those of any typical mom & pop Web user today. and we’re having to tell them “nope – can’t do that; you don’t have enough local processing power/storage/etc.”. Suddenly ALL these day-to-day uses of the net for entertainment (watch a stream, play a game) don’t/can’t work the same in a NC model.

Further, their eyes are bugging out and their hearts are breaking as they finally figure out just HOW MANY SERVERS they have to buy & deploy in their head-ends just to deliver all these applications in a reasonably fast manner to a large audience. There’s some SERIOUS sticker shock going on.

I just think societally we’ve become accustomed to a certain level of application functionality, and a large portion of that functionality is not compatible with an NC world. Now, others will say that this functionality COULD/CAN be developed in such a way as to make it function on a thin client computer and they’d be correct, and yet absolutely wrong.

If you’re a developer (casual games, utilities, whatever) you’re going to design & build for the benefit of the masses. And I’m not talking about taking a lazy way out, but actually focusing on putting as much capability & performance in the hands of the end user as possible. Thinking about how to optimize for a server-based mass-market application is just not a mind-set the majority of these developers.

Admittedly, if we’re talking about Enterprise applications, you could attempt to make a convincing arguement. However, you’re still talking about taking away at least *some* percentage of personal (application) freedom the desktop user in business still enjoys, even in the most locked-down IT environment. Just don’t see that model ever gaining critical mass.

John Hull (user link) says:

Desktops losing market share

One reason I think that NC’s will never become popular is because static desktop PC’s are losing market share in businesses. I work at a large technology company, and whenever someone gets a new corporate machine anymore, it’s always a laptop, not a desktop. Why get a big static system when you can get a portable that you can take to meetings, home, or on the airplane to do work? For laptops, the NC idea makes no sense because people want to do work where there is no network connectivity. Desktop PC’s are definitely “ridiculous devices” these days, not because they have too much power, but because you can get the same power in a portable form factor. With that in mind, I don’t see NC’s ever becoming mainstream.

Gedvondur says:

Perhaps he didn't see

The fact that one of the top “thin client” network computing companies has actually died.
Lightweight clients have their places in retail and factory situations, but for the average corporate desktop, its just silly. They cost as much or more than a laptop or desktop, and you have to install mucho servers to support them. Just not smart.

Oliver Wendell Jones (profile) says:

I hate this concept

Where I work, we have Windows XP set up on our PCs, but all of our “local settings” are stored on a Microsoft Active Directory server somewhere else.

Every once in a while, we’ll have a minor network outage or server glitch and suddenly my desktop clears itself (because all of my desktop shortcuts are not actually on my machine), My Documents stops being available (which usually means whatever document I’m working on is lost or damaged) and I’m completely unable to do any work until they fix it. And it’s not just me, it’s everyone who relies on that same network segment or AD server.

Often times it’s only a temporary glitch and it comes back within a few minutes, but other times it will wipe us out for hours at a time.

I hate this and have gone so far as to create a My Real Documents directory on my local HD and I now save all my documents there instead. They don’t get backed up nightly like they would on the server, but I’m willing to live with that.

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