Your own PC still puts Sun in the shade

Network computers offer little more than a home computer. And they'll sting you into the bargain.

So network computers are the next big thing? That is what Sun Microsystems is hoping, after unveiling its prototype, the "Java Device". Out goes the usual chunky processing unit and in comes a neat little box with 8Mb of RAM. It still features a screen and keyboard, but there is no floppy disc or hard drive - those jobs are done by the central server.

Unfortunately, Sun's demonstration at the launch last month did not exactly wow the assembled hacks. The device needed rebooting each time the user wanted to run a new application - not exactly a step forward in computing. But the real doubts emerged when Sun tried to explain the supposed advantages of its system over conventional PC networks.

Initially, Sun is targeting its network computer (NC) at organisations using "intranets" - local networks serving one organisation.

"PCs are poorly suited for this purpose," says Martyn Lambert, the director of Sun's networking unit, "because you have to provide software and support services for each machine. Java does away with this and gives you infinite flexibility: you simply call up applications for specific tasks from the central server.

Updates or new packages can be added easily and support is carried out at the server end. At a stroke, you also rid yourself of the problem of untrained employees messing up the system. With no need for individual storage, hardware costs can be kept down."

It all sounds wonderful. But hold on.

First, you can already have all of this on your existing PC network, as Java works with most operating systems. With a bit of fiddling, you could adapt the network to control the distribution of software centrally, while still maintaining the PCs as independent units. And, of course, Java and the HotJava browser are available from the Internet free.

That is not the point, says Sun. Install a Java NC system and you save money. Not much, though. The price could be as much as pounds 1,000 per unit. Proven business PCs are available for little more than that now, with full networking capabilities. Moreover, if you install a Java NC system, you will have to fork out on a new central server.

It is in lower running costs, however, that companies will really see the benefits, according to Sun. The Java system will have "near-zero administration costs", compared to what it says is an annual average of pounds 2,300 per unit for a PC network. This sounds incredibly optimistic for a system using both new hardware and software. And even simple terminals can go wrong.

What really matters to IT managers, though, is performance. Can intranets cope with the extra load that will inevitably be generated? Yes, says Sun, because "most companies have high-capacity, 10-megabit networks". But Sun admits that it has not tested this in real work situations, where employees are downloading lots of applications from the central server at the same time. Even today, when intranets are mostly used for moving data and messages, they can become painfully slow with a lot of users connected.

The biggest fear of all is what happens if the network crashes.

Mr Lambert dismisses such concerns, saying that today's networks are extremely reliable and "many companies have a back-up anyway". But not every business can afford this and, as many will testify, networks do go down, however state-of-the-art the technology. If you are using PCs, though, you can carry on working and, if necessary, transfer data via floppy discs. With Java, you are stuck with a load of dumb machines, as useful as a car without petrol.

When pressed, one Sun spokesperson at the launch said: "We may bring out models with a floppy disc drive." But then why bother getting rid of your PCs?

Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

    £65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

    Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

    Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

    £50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

    The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

    £27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas