Former Digital Chief Bursts NT's Hype Balloon
May 21, 1997
Ken Olsen's new company may not be as big as Digital Equipment Corp., which he founded, but it is at the center of one of the biggest network industry trends today - thin-client, or diskless, computing.
Olsen's Advanced Modular Solutions, Inc. was established in an attempt to increase desktop computer manageability and decrease the cost of ownership. Much of the strategy revolved around removing local storage from desktop machines and driving them from a server.
Last week, the company announced a $958 Secura KH Pentium-based client, which runs all versions of Windows, as well as OS/2 and Java.
Network World News Editor Doug Barney caught up with Olsen to get his take on all the Java/thin client hullabaloo.
When was Modular founded?
The very end of '92.
When did Oracle Corp.'s Larry Ellison and Sun Microsystems, Inc.'s Scott McNealy start pounding the drums about network computers (NC) and thin clients?
That was a year ago, last October.
It sounds like you were ahead of the curve.
That's not quite a fair comparison. Most of the early [NC] talk was about a much less expensive home computer. We had a completely different approach - to offer a quite traditional PC that runs the normal operating systems, including OS/2 and NT, in addition to Windows and DOS, and to run all the applications, but just as they are.
The thing we offered that was unique was diskless, floppyless and CD-less. It only ran company software and was designed for company use.
The way that the NC vision has evolved, though, is to go after the corporate market and store the applications on a server. It seems like the main difference between what the NC vendors are doing and what you are doing is that they want new stuff built from the ground up for Java, whereas you are pushing existing solutions.
Yes. We do Java by emulation and, as far as we are concerned, Java is not the problem right now. The problem is doing ordinary things and, in fact, limiting the job to what ordinary things have to get done.
What's your take on Java-based NCs?
[The role NCs] will play is a matter of people's attitude. People don't want to be left behind in technology. NCs will be quite popular just because few people are analyzing why they want something. They look at headlines and go from there.
How important do you think Java will be in the long run?
I thought it was all foolishness for a long time because Microsoft owned everything, but apparently I'm wrong, and that's the limit of my Java knowledge.
It seems like a lot of large companies, including Digital, have fallen in lockstep with Microsoft's direction. What is the impact of that on the computer market?
It's hard to tell, but I hear more and more people disillusioned with the instability of NT. These people are either going or desiring to go to alternate systems, even though those systems are not as powerful, just because those people love the old days when things always worked. The idea of crashing regularly is just disillusioning people. So there appears to be a market out there growing for alternatives that do things simpler and are more disciplined, more controlled and always work.
How would Digital be different today if you had stayed in charge?
I've thought about that many times, but I never say anything. My history has always been to solve problems. We rarely had the fastest computer. We did take the best care of customers.
What are your responsibilities at Modular?
Oh, doing everything. At Digital I spent most of the time in finance and organization; here, I'm involved most of the time in technical things, often the physics, packaging and electrical engineering part of it.
Source: Network World
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