The Network Computer, derided by the big players last year, is being embraced as a robust alternative to the PC. Tony Durham and Tim Greenhalgh explore its rise
A Cambridge research laboratory has developed what it believes is the world's first virtual network computer using Java and the Web.
Users are able to view and work on their personal computer desktop from any Java enabled computer anywhere in the world.
Andy Hopper, director of research at the Olivetti & Oracle Research Laboratory explains: "The true essence of mobile computing is having your personal environment wherever you happend to be, which has traditionally meant carrying around a laptop or personal digital assistant. Making applications mobile is one of the underlying concepts behind network computing. Extending this to provide the ability to call up your personal environment over the Internet facilitates nomadic computing on a global scale."
The virtual NC development stems from ORL's research into local area network "teleporting". A secure personal working environment is identified by a Web page containing a Java applet. Point any Java enabled browser anywhere in the world at this page and the user's environment appears. ORL admits that present bandwidth constraints limit performance on the Net and is developing the teleporting idea for use over high-bandwidth networks.
In this case, centrally located or remote servers house all applications, windowing systems and multimedia. Users access these services through NCs or other stateless devices. ORL has developed a communications protocol, dubbed "rectangles around the world" to allow applications and services to be scaled automatically for display on the client device.
Researchers at ORL have used a form of teleporting successfully for the past three years which operates within the X Window System, and allows users to interact with their existing X applications at any X display.
"It makes a lot of sense to distribute and manage computing power, resources and data from central servers, making the desktop device cheap and maintenance-free," Dr Hopper says.