News.com writes about efforts by Microsoft, AMD and Intel, and then adds:
If you want to spread low-cost access to computing, and ultimately protect intellectual property, maybe it’s time to revisit Larry Ellison’s concept of the network computer. You probably remember that the Oracle executive pushed the notion of small, diskless “appliances” that included a monitor, keyboard, network connection and not much else–especially no place to run pirated software.
The idea was that all of the smarts were pushed down to network computers from server computers running Oracle’s database and communications software. Oracle was to make its profits by selling the server software to hosting companies, Internet service providers, governments and the like.
Ellison even founded a company, Network Computer, Inc., to manufacture and sell the devices. But after reinventing itself as a TV set-top box maker, that venture crashed and burned when it failed to get additional funding back in 2003.
Other companies–including Gateway, Sony and the former Compaq Computer–introduced cheap Net-surfing machines four to five years ago, and all ultimately exited the market as the cost, and profitability, of PC hardware plummeted.
Now, the modern version of the network computer concept comes from Sun Microsystems, which is pushing its Linux-based Java Desktop System as a low-cost way to provide computers to people in China and elsewhere. The company signed a deal last year with China Standard Software to provide JDS to millions of consumers. Sun is also aiming the program at India, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and other countries.
Devising a low-cost PC isn’t an exercise in altruism. At stake is an opportunity to gain a foothold in what could be the biggest technology market opportunity this century. Ballmer has thrown down the gauntlet. So who’s going to take up the challenge?
We are working to do just that.