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Cover Story
Life with Your First NC

-- by Lou Grinzo

You arrive at work one morning to discover that a deranged computer gremlin has replaced your beloved Windows PC with a Network Computer. What would such a sudden change mean to you today, next week and in the months ahead?

Using a Network Computer requires a completely different mind-set. You've heard the endless talk of how NCs will save organizations bargeloads of money, thanks to labor and maintenance savings. Gone forever are the headaches of misplaced or incorrect DLLs, Registry and INI file secret handshakes, mysterious Windows lockups, driver headaches and backup concerns. You're suddenly a pure, unfettered user concentrating on getting work done, not a combination user/system administrator. But the cost of freedom is high, especially this early in the NC's life cycle.

On the positive side, you no longer have to tweak every little detail of your installation. On the negative side, you no longer can tweak every little detail of your installation. This will drive do-it-yourselfers mad, even though some minimal level of customization will still be possible. And hardware customization will be limited to choosing the color of sticky notes to put on your monitor.

Your first major surprise is that the applications you've grown to know and love, or at least tolerate, are probably not available on your NC. One day you perform a solid 95 percent of your work in one part or another of Microsoft Office, and the next day it's gone. You've arranged your working life around Lotus Organizer or some other PIM, and it, too, has vanished. Not only is your software selection different, it's also much more limited, a problem that will hound NC users for months, if not years.

Those Version 1.0 Blues

Once you start adjusting to the applications, you'll find shortcomings everywhere. All your programs have that unmistakable whiff of version 1.0, no matter what their "About ..." boxes claim. Even worse, you're running programs written by Java rookies, using version 1.0-quality tools. And as fiercely competitive as this market segment is, much of the software was developed in a headlong rush-hardly a formula for robust software.

After struggling through your first day, the final nasty surprise comes at quitting time, when you realize you can't just pop a floppy into your system and take some files home. Your NC probably doesn't even have a floppy disk drive-and even if it does, chances are you don't (yet) have matching software at home that can use those files.

NCs make a tantalizing promise of liberation, one they'll likely fulfill-in the long run. But as Java, its development tools and the new Java-based applications inflict their adolescent idiosyncrasies on you all at once, the short run might feel very long indeed.


Windows Magazine, April 1997, page 188.

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