My client was so thin that . . .

My client was so thin that . . .

Perhaps one disadvantage in selling computers is knowing how to use them. And liking them can be downright disastrous. Take the Network Computer as an example: few enthusiast PC users would want one because of the way they'd be limited. The trouble is, that's a comment on what we want, and not what's good for the purchaser, or even the end user.

Those of us who enjoy our PCs and our applications forget what it is that most people need on their desk - a solution to a problem. It's a bit like the question: "what's the real product, the printer or the paper?" The answer is that for 99 per cent of users the printer is only a means to an end, and the printed page is what people really want.

Most office workers need a word processor, perhaps a spreadsheet, and maybe access to the company information system. How they get access to the software, and what machine they use probably doesn't matter to most of them. That's where the NC shines.

I recently attended an IBM briefing on its version of the NC, and I'm forced to admit that the machine does have a place in mid to high-end institutions. For instance, it makes the job of administering software and keeping versions and patches up to date so much easier. Not only do users always have access to the latest version of whatever they use, it can be accessed on any NC in the organisation, as their personal profile and access rights are held centrally, linked to them and not a machine.

To be able to swap-out a faulty machine in minutes and not have to worry about personal data and applications on the hard disk (because there isn't one) would be a system administrator's heaven. Add to that the inability of most users to install their own software, insert a diskette or fiddle with anything other than their data files and you'll start to get the message.

On the downside, don't expect to be able to run Windows 95 (or its apps) on NCs. And even with new Java apps coming out, the choice will be limited for quite a while.

Total cost of ownership

Uncle Bill over at Microsoft would prefer us to go halfway if we really have to have some sort of NC. His compromise is to put a thin-client PC on the desks, running as much as we like from the server. That way we maintain our Win95 desktop, but get most of the other advantages of the true NC. Of course, NC boosters point out that it still costs more to run, isn't as secure, and leaves the user with far too much freedom.

In the end it might all come down to total cost of ownership. If these US reports we've been seeing are true, it's at least twice as expensive to maintain a full PC on a desktop. NC may, after all, mean Negligible Cost.

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