Could a mobile phone be a consumer’s only computer?

Philip Greenspun suggests the use of the mobile phone as identity and storage and an “appliance” into which the phone plugs as the general purpose computer used to perform “home” computing tasks (email, browsing, playing games, etc.) Having used Sun’s SunRay thin clients back in the dot-com days, I can attest to the user-friendliness of “plug and play” computing – put your smart card into any computer in the company and get your desktop. Very, very nice experience. However, I think the idea of a dumbed-down appliance-based OS has been tried and failed – WebTV springs to mind, Audrey, all of those things.

 

Having praised the SunRay experience, I must also share why I think thin clients are the worst idea ever. At a trade show critical to our company’s success, we uncrated a dozen SunRay’s into the room in which we would be demonstrating our technology. We hooked up the server and booted the system. Every SunRay booted. Every SunRay got to some driver. Every SunRay said “Oh, updated driver. Install and reboot.” Every SunRay shut down. Every SunRay booted. Every SunRay got to some driver. Every SunRay said “Oh, updated driver. Install and reboot.” And so the loop continued.

 

Our IT guys worked for hours trying to resolve the problem. We had Sun on the phone. We had Oracle on the phone. How could we get a different server? Apparently there were SunRay’s in that town where they filmed The Truman Show and there was some discussion of commandeering their hardware. Eventually, the CEO gave our IT his American Express and said “Go to Office Depot and buy 20 PCs.” And at the end of the show he said “Go to Office Depot and return the 20 PCs.” (An edict typical of our CEOs moral sense.)

 

Thin clients suck.