CyberTech Rambler

October 14, 2005

John Carroll calling a storage device a PC

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:48 pm

John Carroll’s idea for a sub $100 PC is interesting, and I like the idea/concept and can see myself doing this. However, I cannot call it a PC, not even a PC substitute.

His idea is that everything is stored on a USB device instead of an internal hard disk. User simply bring the USB device to a dummy computer terminal, i.e. one that only have processor, display, keyboard and mouse, boot it off the device and run everything from the USB device. He then call USB device and the dump terminals a PC.

He asks us to be bold and disregards the concept of a traditional PC. There is no need to do so. The dummy terminal/external storage combo is a PC in every sense of the word. Let’s not forget that hard disks is a relatively new addition to PC. Before hard disk become common places (around 1995), we boot PCs from floppy disks. In fact, today you can download Knoppix CD and DVD and boot your computer off it, bypassing your harddisk completely and store your data to a USB device.

However, since he ask it nicely, I will try my best. BUT what I am not prepared to do is to confuse the ownership of a storage device with the ownership of a PC. He is asking us to disregard the composition of a PC. But a PC, whatever its composition, must be able to process data such write a document or spreadsheet. This is actually a fundamental requirement for any PC. Another important purpose of creating a sub $100 PC is to give its owner an INDEPENDENT means of processing his data. Otherwise, we can all call a dummy terminal that do timesharing processing time on a mainframe a PC … and it is easier to configure one like this sub $100 coz it means we can disregards the cost of everything on the servere end (including the server). A USB or other device which stores program/data/OS cannot perform data processing and therefore fails to qualify as a PC. An owner of the storage device, however sophisicated, still needs to access to a dummy terminal. If he does not own one, he is at the mercy of others and therefore not independent.

His argument seems to rely on the fact that the majority of the people personally spend less than $100. This does not fly. It is like saying I have a sub $30 PC TODAY since I own a Knoppix CD ($1 – cost of a CDR) and a small USB flash memory stick (approx $20 for a 256MB model) and at time insert the two into someone else computer to do my word processing. Even if we stretch this personnal cost thinner by using communal ownership of dummy terminals to spread the cost of it over as many storage device to bring the cost per person down to sub $100 level, I am sure most people will count the number of PCs as the number of dummy terminals collectively owned. Otherwise, given enough people, we can each personally spend less than $100 for supercomputing.

If his purpose is to squeeze in Microsoft Windows into the sub $100 PC space, by offseting the cost of a copy of the OS against the dumb terminal, that is disingenius. There are better ways. I reckon the easiest way Microsoft can achieve this is to give away Windows Starter Edition or other crippleware version of Windows.

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