Thoughts on technology and social web

March 30, 2009

Thin clients are here! yet again!

Filed under: Web 4.0 — Ravikant Cherukuri @ 4:55 am

Been a while since Oracle prophesized about the thin client and Web OS. The thin clients were supposed to be on a healthy diet of whatever the DB of that generation served as the backend. That was then. A decade of internet bubbles and innovation later here we are again. There is all the hype (and reality) about about netbooks and the iPhone. How will the cloud get into these gizmos now?

Win7? Android? OS X? The traditional OSes are scaling down for the netbooks and the cell phone operating systems are scaling up. But things on these devices or whatever the actual thin clients will turn out to be, need not be a scaled down or scaled up version of something else (more on that later). There is news that Windows 7 is scaling down to netbooks and a major effort is on from Microsoft to make Win7 run faster and better on smaller hardware. There are also rumors that android is the secret cancer curing, windows killer.

But is a scaled down or scaled up Windows/Android/Mac disruptive enough for a new world? We are seeing the cloud grow bigger each day to accommodate our computing needs. There is great innovation from the big companies (Amazon/Google/Microsoft) as well as many startups providing storage, processing power and many other higher level services to all who can consume them. Are the traditional OS paradigms, scaled right or not, suitable to take advantage of this awesome power in the cloud? There are some betting that they are not.

An OS with nothing but a browser that can run java script, a netbook with a broadband connection and a cloud full of goodies could bring in the new future if you believe in this vision. There are several OS shells that run in the browser,,,  etc are a few examples.


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All of these are desktops running inside a browser with the session actually stored on remote servers. The applications provided include MP3 players, browsers (yes they run inside the desktop that runs inside your browser), RSS readers, word processors, spreadsheets and the works. By no means are these products ready for primetime. But the promise of the concept is hard to miss. And there are operating systems being worked on that would down size the OS to be Nothing but ‘Net.

All these could converge with the ever growing cloud to give us a context that roams with us from desktop to laptop to cell phone without losing productivity. Then again, this could all evaporate into hot air and we would be talking of the coming of the thin clients again in 2020. But it sure sounds like the pieces are falling into place this time around. 


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