Dumb terminal redux

1 01 2010

Currently, netbooks are being sold successfully. Essentially, they are small, low-priced, cramped, underpowered laptop computers that are designed for light internet and word processing duties. These remind me of the dumb terminals of the 60s and 70s. For those too young to remember, a dumb terminal is computer with only enough processing power to connect remotely to a more power computer. Back then, you would probably be connecting with a mainframe.

In addition cloud computing is becoming more and more popular. While still a buzzword, government agencies are getting set to adopt Google Docs for its document storage and collaboration. Clearly, working on a remote server is coming back into vogue, but for different reasons than the ones in the past.

In the past, there was incentive to work on remote computers because they were far more powerful than the more affordable computers of the day. People would get time on a mainframe and carry out complex calculations, often for research purposes. Now, remote computing is used for off-site backup as well as easy sharing and collaboration amongst several people.

With the rise of cloud computing and underpowered netbooks, could we be on the verge of seeing even lower-powered computers coming into the market? Could these computers have the explicit function of connecting to services like Google Apps and Gmail and having the user do all work on the internet, rather than storing data and executing software locally? The next few years should reveal that. There are some serious caveats to putting all faith in the cloud and keeping your data there. Google Apps and Gmail are great when they work, but sometimes they go down and disrupt life for millions of users who rely on them heavily already. What happens when you cannot access an important paper or get to your email?

Would you be willing to ditch your regular computer and move to 21st century dumb terminal?

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