Thursday, December 09, 2004

Back to timesharing a la wireless?

Back around 1965, when I was a young teenager and my father worked for Honeywell, I asked what it was exactly that he did. He said he sat at a thing like an electric typewriter connected to a computer the size of four big refrigerators. There were several other typewriters attached to the computer and this was called timesharing. The users ( a systems test team) asked the computer to do things (test routines) and checked what it printed against standards.The electric telexes, alone, could only type, but the computer gave them the full power of a mainframe of the time (about what you have in a mid-priced mobile phone of 2004, and the Honeywell mainframe cost USD 2 million then).
Now, according to Scott McNealty of Sun Microsystems, speaking at Oracle OpenWorld, the future belongs to "thin clients" connected wirelessly to servers and clusters. If the connection breaks, you can't even type on the equipment, it is almost brainless. In fact, what will put "your work" on the thin client desktop is a small chip, a kind of super SIM card, and when you take it out, someone else can snap in his and have a completely different desktop workspace. So we have come full circle in 40 years to timesharing of a new kind.
When I think of the young guys in the Latvian IT business, I always imagine that they will not even work like people did in the mid-90s, nevermind the 80s -- with clunky systems, green on black screens, the like. Legacy is not a problem, compared to the US and Western Europe, where legacy going back to the 1960s is one reaon Oracle and its competitors have to come up with elaborate solutions to make this zoo look simple again For instance, the Data Hub idea. But now it looks like we are coming around to timesharing again, when everyone feeds off the power of the once great central virtual computer.
Just some scribblings from Oracle. A great speech by Larry Ellisson, as usual, summing up the Oracle vision more clearly than some of the technobabbling and buzzword dropping heard earlier. He was only tripped up a bit and perhaps said the wrong things by washing his hands of what Oracle may be used for by the Chinese government. Ellisson correctly said that the company didn't make government policy, but the person questioning him gave him an opening by not asking a) whether there are some customers, whose oppressive uses for information are so obvious that Oracle should question selling to them b) whether the company has some ethical standards about how it allows its software to be used.

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