Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

Same As It Ever Was


Remember netbooks? Of course you do. You might even own one. (Just don’t try to buy one, unless it’s the one I’m selling.) However, that question will have far more meaning in a few years. By then, netbooks will belong to the dim past, as floppies do now.

Netbooks were successful, briefly, because they were a better way to connect to the Net. They were cheaper, more portable—and less computer—than a laptop. These days you have to be connected to The Cloud. Using Cloud storage and programs, new machines are not so much computers as connections. We might call them CloudBooks.

You could use a netbook offline and do things, like writing, spreadsheets, etc. Not so with a CloudBook. No independent computing for these babies. They only function connected to The Cloud.

The CloudBook is the latest face of computing. Some people (neophiliacs) will rush to be up with the very latest. Yet it’s unlikely they understand where CloudBooks fit in the history of computing.

In the days before The Cloud, even before the Internet, computers were very large and not personal. Back then, you submitted your computer tasks (called jobs—no relation) to an operator, the person who actually ran the jobs on the big computer.

You did, that is, until the smarties figured out how to run more than one job at a time. They called it time-sharing (no relation) and you could even do it from a distance, over a telephone using an acoustic modem.

The earliest terminals were converted teletype machines, a big box with keys and a big roll of paper. Then came terminals with keyboards and CRTs, looking very much like early personal computers. But they were merely devices to access the mainframe, the central computer.

Since all they could do was what the mainframe allowed, they were called dumb terminals. So maybe CloudBook is not the best name for today’s new devices. Though they too might look like a computer, they’re only dumb terminals to The Cloud.

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