Now's the time for the network computer

Just build the best business and data-viewer browser software now, give it away, and outsource the hardware to Apple.

What a week in IT. Sky-high Skype, Oracle-a-buy-buy,, Microsoft Office eye candy, MSNing around with AOL. Hard to call IT a has-been, commoditized industry with all of this action. It got me thinking of a unifying implication or common thread between these seemingly distinct points.

And then it came to me. I think that it is now, finally, time for the network computer. I don't care about the hardware, as long as it's x86 and wirelessly networked. I'd like to see it come standard with 60BG of disk space, and 2GB of memory, and lots of USB 2 slots. Operating system can be Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, I don't care as long as it runs a speedy JVM and has some stock reader applications for accessing and playing most document and media formats. I'm thinking of the Apple Mini or equivalent in about a year, that sort of thing. Under $500 loaded. Maybe $900 for the notebook version.

But what I'd really like to see as soon as possible is the next-generation thin-client, catch-all software application to run on this hardware, and Oracle is just the company to produce it. Yep, Oracle. After all, Larry Ellison was a driving force behind the network computer concept going on eight years ago (or more). And now that Oracle is number two in business apps, and by no means as cozy with (or dependent on) Microsoft as SAP, it's time for Larry to hammer this puppy home. How about a thin front-end for those business apps that has nothing to do with Microsoft, eh, Larry? That was the dream, right? Just build the best business and data-viewer browser software now, give it away, and outsource the hardware to Apple.

Start with the Firefox browser from and make it a Web developer's primary target; the object of an AJAX scripter's dream; a parser's parser; the rose on a Web services vine; the easiest endpoint for object, relational, and XML data connectivity. Make it open, fast, and rich -- but not too rich -- in UI niceties. Make it secure and easily up-dateable. Let me use a headset for VOIP calls. Let me synch to my cell phone and/or iPod through it, too. This software client, which Oracle, of course, would donate back to the appropriate open source communities with a no strings-attached and unfettered license, would be what Internet Explorer could have been but never will be.

For enterprises, put an Oracle data cache on the client, if you must, for those odd offline times and speedier performance requirements. And, oh, well ... fine, optimize it to perform best with Oracle RAC applications and stripped grid data servers. Fine. I can live with that. Just let me live in the thing as a user across all my REST/POX, SOAP, SIP, VOIP, and DHTML productivity needs. A truly unified thin client. Ahhhh.

But don't wait. The newest Microsoft Office 12 clients-as-rich-front-ends stuff won't arrive for 14 months, and not enter the market in a meaningful way for probably 20 months, so now's the time to get the new definition of thin-client computing out the door. That way the ISVs, corporate developers, on-demand services providers, SOA architects, and mobile carriers will see the true future, the one of choice, freedom, and the services fabric. Hell, even Benioff will like it, even if software is ended.

Oh, and if Oracle is not into this right now, too busy with M&A details, for example, how about you, IBM? Whattaya say? We could call it Wicked WorkPlace, or something catchy like that. Market it as Multi-Protocol, Client-Enabled Portal-Optimized Middleware (WebSphere MPCE-POM), as you are wont to do, if you must. Just get it done.

After a week like this, you have to dream.