From JavaStations to Cell Phones

I wanted to make sure to call attention to an entry on the O’Reilly blog having to do with providing computing services to rural communities. The post, “SMS Servers Replacing PCs in India” (Link), reminded me a little of some previous efforts to create network computers in the mid-90’s. From the entry:

The SMS servers are being used to power an MSR project designed to test replacing PCs with SMS servers in the village of Warana (map). Mobile phones are used by farmers to access their data. In their system mobile phones become the client and SMS is used to communicate with the server.

The project is named Warana Unwired. Since the project has gone live it has processed 6000 SMS from 1238 different farmers (80% were data requests about sugarcane output). The time for farmers to get their data has dropped from 15 days originally, 2 days with a PC to immediate.

Anyone remember the design award-winning JavaStation? or the buzz surrounding decentralized systems back then? There was plenty of talk about having applications on a central server and accessing it through the NC. And there were also plenty of design concepts to go along with it. Only that technology never really materialized for most of us.

I remember thinking that office workers (still the majority of PC users back then) would be hesitant to give up the power they had in their stand-alone machines. Seems I might have been right. Now, however, I’m not sure that’s the case. As overpowered PC’s have migrated from offices to homes, and as people have changed their attitudes regarding such things as privacy and shopping online using credit cards, I could imagine network computers making a serious comeback. And instead of bulky machines with monitors, they could be more like cell phones and simply hook into whatever peripheral interface-augmention system is available. They could be next generation game consoles.

I’ll be watching, because I have a gut feeling things are set to become much more interesting than they already are.

{Just caught this entry on Wired’s Epicenter blog discussing the possibility of an Apple/Google mini-PC – Link}