Technologies that time forgot: 3Com's 3+Open

When P2P meant a frozen screen and an HP printer...

When P2P meant a frozen screen and an HP printer...

Back in the late 80s and early 90s, when Shaun Fanning was still in short trousers and Sony Walkmans were just about considered state-of-the-art, peer-to-peer meant something very different to the IT professional. It took Napster and the other music sharing sites to give P2P a sexy, mainstream edge but a decade earlier P2P meant network operating system. For an emerging breed of network managers this seemingly prosaic technology was in fact a novel way of taking the personal out of the personal computer and linking together brand new x86 machines running MS-DOS. And for 3Com it seemed an obvious way to sell their Ethernet-based adapters and cables. For the more heavy-duty user there was market leading Novell NetWare 3.11 followed - in this order - by Banyan Vines and Microsoft LAN Manager (NT was still several years away). For everybody else there was P2P - notably NetWare Lite, TOPS (for Mac users), and Artisoft's LANtastic, the most LANmentable (sorry) play on words in the sorry history of IT. Microsoft jumped on the P2P bandwagon in 1993 with Windows for Workgroups, a networking variation on the highly successful Windows 3.1. The concept was simple: P2P operating systems allowed users to share resources (a euphemism for the office printer) and files. Your PC acted both as a client and as a server to the group as demand dictated. Simple in principle, in practice a frozen screen and unresponsive keyboard while your colleague printed out a 30-page document was a common frustrating scenario. For the decidedly single-tasking PC this was all too much. But the limitations of the technology was not the reason 3Com decided to give up the ghost by mid-1991. It was more the realisation that Novell, Artisoft et al did it better. For a hardware maker who'd only dabbled in software to justify the boxes it was producing, getting out of the operating system market was an easy decision to make.