May 14, 2010

The Return of the Thin Client... (Part 2)

Since the first part of my rambling was getting a bit long, I decided to break the post into 2 parts.

Part 1 is here

Now you might be asking yourself, what more is there to say about

The real reason why Steve Jobs hates Flash

As I said before Charlie is nothing if not emphatic. As I got farther down in the article I was certainly cringing as I read some of what he envisions as the future of IT.

First we have the new broadband IT revolution - everything goes wireless:

LTE will be here. WiMax will be here. We will be seeing pocket 4G routers similar to the MiFi but featuring 50-100mbps internet connectivity.

What he sees is more and more of a switch to wireless and away from wired connections - something that has slowly been going on for quite a while. No one likes wires (except maybe me - I even hate wireless mice - heh)  As far as I know the iPad has no way to do a wired connection, it's completely wireless. Nice not having any wires isn't it. Of course, what happens if you can't get a wireless signal?

It's all about the Data.

Right now loss of wireless signal usually comes about because of bad access point placement or bad equipment, but what if we move to this completely wireless world with waves of data wafting through the air - data we depend on to function day to day... data we depend on to make vital infrastructure function - what if someone decides to start jamming signals?

Signal jamming could be applied over a selective area or a wide area by anyone with the right equipment. It could easily be used by bad guys or "good" guys for various reasons. If you apply a little thought to the matter, you can see how it becomes an excellent vehicle for blackmail (just give us some money and well let your online store alone) or for putting down protests (shut down communication, you shut down a protest) as just two of the many uses. If you have no backup wired connection, you'll be SOL. With cell phones so prevalent now, we are nearly to the point where this scenario has become fact. Then again it hasn't happened so there's no reason to worry about it. Right?

Wireless encryption is marginally good enough for now. As computer chips become faster and better, the cracking abilities of hackers increases.  With wireless, you just have to set up an antenna and "listen". This is already being done. The best known example to date is the TJX breach.

Canadian probe finds TJX breach followed wireless hack

The intruders who broke into TJX's networks and stole data involving more than 45 million credit card and debit card numbers first gained access to the company's systems via poorly protected wireless local-area networks -- as some have previously theorized. The break-ins happened at two Marshalls stores in Miami.

TJX was using WEP to encrypt its wireless signals. WEP was cracked, but they hadn't moved on to the newer WPA. Of course this would never happen in the future... right? Ahem. Sure. (we won't even talk about possible holes in the wireless equipment itself - a little too much piling on)

The other main selling point of his article is that everyone will be moving to "cloud" based data storage.

The availability of 50+mbps data everywhere means that you don't need to keep your data on a local hard drive; it can live on a server elsewhere, streamed to your pad as you need it.

Put another way... "all your data belong to us". This major push toward putting all your data out on "the cloud"... in some server somewhere... is very disconcerting. The idea is to make your life easier by not having to store all that stuff.

OTOH - you are putting your vital data on a server somewhere that is being serviced by someone and is backed-up elsewhere. Read that again and let it soak in. Does it bother you? Do you care? Are you a person who thinks "I'm okay because I don't do anything wrong"?

You have no idea where the servers are, who has access to them, how well are they secured. It's not always a matter of them stealing your data, what if they change your data?  Add to your data then call the cops?  

This is not like a bank where you put your money in and have FDIC protection of assets to a certain point. This is: you put your data in and hope it's there where you left it and that no one has copied it or tampered with it in the meantime. If it's not there or has been changed... oh well, too bad, how sad guess you'll have to look over your shoulder for the rest of your life to see if someone else is using it or who might be coming after you.

Or maybe it's your company's data, maybe your company will go out of business because company secrets were stolen or made public. Loss of data can mean loss of customer confidence (although people seem to be somewhat blase about this lately).

So maybe I am making too much of this. It will never happen.

I just can't shake the feeling that "the cloud" and "wireless" are 2 different but singular points of failure - utter failure - in the computing world. I have no doubt, if we can bulldoze our way through, we'll get past these points, but they worry me. Yes they do.

And we can always trust the providers because:

Google Says It Mistakenly Collected Data on Web Usage

Naturally it was all a mistake! They didn't mean to collect data - at least until they were caught. And really they aren't keeping it! You can trust them.

I'll just hang on to most of my own data thankyouverymuch.  And you all can tell me I worry too much.  It's okay, I'm used to it. 

Posted by: Teresa in WebTech at 04:54 PM | Comments (7) | Add Comment
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May 11, 2010

The Return of the Thin Client... (Part 1)

Yesterday on Facebook, Matty O'Blackfive posted a link to a fun blog post.

The real reason why Steve Jobs hates Flash

It isn't as much about Steve Jobs and Flash as it is about prognostication. Where will computing be in 5 years? 10?

I always love prognostication in the IT industry. It's like weather prediction... you're lucky if you get some of it right, you hope people will later ignore the stuff you get wrong, and you definitely cringe at the stuff you didn't know would be developed that created significant changes.

Charlie is certainly emphatic. He makes any number of flat out statements in the post. (check out the number of "all", "everybody", and other emphatic - foot down words) Of course some of these are counted among my favorite IT statements:

The USA has some of the worst domestic broadband in the developed world, because it's delivered over cables that were installed early...

I have mentioned before how much I dislike the blanket statement about broadband service in the US being "the worst" in the developed world. I don't know where but I know I've mentioned it. Let me recap... when they talk about the mah-velous performance in other countries, are they including countryside away from the city? How are they measuring? Is this speed available to all? Who pays and how much does it cost? What is the size of the country compared to the size of the US? Okay you get the idea. I never see real comparable statistics - just a flat statement. I want to see good impartial data with a comparison of apples/to apples (so to speak). This is always a statement proclaimed as if everyone "knows" it to be true - rather like global warming they are saying, "the science is settled" and no one questions it.

...the PC industry as we have known it for a third of a century is beginning to die.

PCs are becoming commodity items.

Interesting - that leap of logic. Does this mean all commodity items will disappear because they aren't profitable enough? I expect Target and Walmart will soon be out of business since they depend so heavily on selling all kinds of commodity items at a very low profit margin.

The trend he notes is exactly the trend that always occurs with development of a product. The initial prices are prohibitive, they are difficult to operate, they are mainly used by enthusiasts. They eventually become easier to operate, the quality improves, the price drops, and regular everyday people start using them if they are fun, useful and/or make life easier.

Actually the margins have seldom been really high on any type of PC - when the prices were high, it's because the component prices were high. As the component prices drop so does the overall price allowing more to be sold. There is nothing new in this curve of development it's basic economics. This in itself does not portend the imminent demise of any product.

If you look at commodity products historically, those with prices that don't drop are the ones that tend to disappear. Although I'm sure it's not true in every case (few things seldom are always true or false)

Software will be delivered as a service to users wherever they are, via whatever device they're looking at...

Ah the mantra of the dedicated geek. Things will be sooooo much better when we get it delivered to us instead of fiddling about with it ourselves. Of course they usually mean things will be better when the peons get all services delivered. And any service they themselves don't particularly want to pay for or bother with is delivered for "free".

This geek utopia is a tricky place... there is lots of free software and internet access, but enough of a difficulty level to leave the geeks feeling superior to the peons of the computer world. No one ever says who develops and pays for all the free stuff - it's just there.

Let's go back a bit in history for a quickie overview. Computers began as big machines in dark cold rooms inside big businesses and universities that could afford them. After a bit, "terminals" were developed. Programmers/operators could use these to send commands to the computer (so much better than all those cards with holes punched in them!). These were the first "thin clients". They did nothing but have a screen - for showing typed commands and results - and a keyboard. All processing was done on the mainframe.

Then along comes the Personal Computer (for this post the term PC includes Windows, Mac, and Linux desktop/laptop machines). It gave everyone a chance to have access to all that processing power. Now you too could sit at home and do computations - just like they did at NASA to land men on the moon! Every computer everywhere was going to be small and on the desktop! Everything would be done via PC - it was the death of the mainframe server!!! (death I tell you!)

About the mid-90's that started to turn around. Many geeks were shocked to find that PC's (not even Apple's vaunted Mac) could process data as fast as those behemoth mainframes. Besides, after the millions invested, companies were stubbornly clinging to those nasty old things and wouldn't get rid of them.(how 70's retro could they get!)

Thus blossomed the new idea... everyone would soon move to "thin clients". These would be exactly like the terminals of old. They would be a screen - now in living color! - and a keyboard and maybe a small drive that ran some little bit of software. But mainly they would be just a screen and you would be hooked up to a mainframe... everything would be done via server - it was the death of the PC!!! (death I tell you!)

Sadly for prognosticators all over the IT world, it soon became apparent that businesses and people were once again not going to cooperate! They were stubbornly clinging to their antiquated PC's. They liked their silly little bits of software on their desktop, not stuck out on a server (if you could even get such types of software on a server!). They liked the speed at which they could get things done when the software was right there. And thus the pendulum swung once again, although not quite so far this time. PC's were in vogue and mainframes were accepted as being a necessary evil to do all that boring computing in the background that keeps business rolling along. (much like Mike Rowe's Dirty Jobs).

Now it's swinging again. We have iPads and smart phones, other pad type devices that will soon be available to browse the internet, pick up mail and do some basic tasks. Does this spell the end of the PC? I have no idea. Does it sound exactly like earlier predictions of the demise of one type of computer or another - it certainly does.

Just because there is a new fad, does not mean any particular type of device will disappear. "Everyone" will not be making the switch. There are many people who can not afford the cost of a "smart computing device" - even if people with disposable income believe them to be cheap. There are other considerations that will come into play. I'll leave those for Part 2 as these other issues are of some concern - at least to me if no one else.

For now - happy computing - either on your Mainframe, PC, or smart computing device of choice.

And on to Part 2.  (unless you'd rather bang your head against a wall - I could see the appeal after all this geekiness)

Posted by: Teresa in WebTech at 08:14 PM | Comments (5) | Add Comment
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May 05, 2010


It was 10 years ago that the Love Bug Worm hit the interwebz. 

I saw this story over at ComputerWorld...  I read the first paragraph and then just stopped to laugh...

Network World - When the LoveBug worm hit 10 years ago, it was a different time when people believed admirers were really reaching out to say "I love you", personal firewalls were turned off by default and executable attachments weren't blocked at e-mail gateways.

And this is different than today... how?  Oh yeah, it was perpetrated by email instead of Facebook

Well then, we've come a long way baby!

Posted by: Teresa in WebTech at 11:00 PM | Comments (5) | Add Comment
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