Magazine article Occupational Hazards

The Internet Toaster Wars

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

The Internet Toaster Wars

Article excerpt

The phenomenal growth of the World-Wide Web and Web programming tools over the past year is revolutionizing the way people view and use computers. Computers are rapidly, becoming inseparable from networks, prompting some experts to declare that the network is the computer.

This is clearly the case in my professional life where Internet access is not a luxury, but a necessity. The OSHA Web page (http://www. osha.gov) has replaced the OSHA CD-ROM as my primary source of OSHA information. Free access to the Federal Register through the Internet (http://www.access.gpo. gov/su_docs/aces/aaces002.html) means that I no longer need to pay for a clumsy hard copy subscription. Material Safety Data Sheets, environmental information and other reference material are more readily accessible through the Internet than by other means.

The Internet has become my prime provider of shareware and updates to commercial software, eliminating the need to order and store shareware and software patches on diskettes. This means more room and less clutter on my desk.

Computer-Network Fusion

The computer industry is working hard to complete this computer-network fusion. Industry pundits predict that network computers, also known as Web computers, Internet appliances, or Internet toasters, will soon replace the personal computer on your desk. Sun Microsystems, Oracle, Apple Computer and IBM are just a few of the companies developing mass market network computers.

Network computers are simple, containing a microprocessor, an operating system in ROM, RAM, keyboard and an Internet interface, all for under $500. Without a hard drive or floppy disk, the Internet toaster depends upon the network for application software and storage space. This will be done through an operating system which receives very small applications, called "applets," from a network server as needed.

Sun Microsystems' Java programming language will be the basis for at least one Internet toaster operating system. The Netscape 2.0 Web browser includes Java support, so expect to see more and more Java applets on your WorldWide Web travels. Currently, Java applets serve simple animation and information functions, such as ESPN's Sports ScorePost[TM] ticker applet (http://web1.starwave. com/index.java.htm1), but text editing, spreadsheet and other key productivity applets are under development.

Frankly, I don't see individual PC users accepting Internet toasters. Their success depends upon fast data transfer between the toaster and the Internet servers. Let's face it, most home PC users and many private consultants cannot justify the cost of a dedicated, high-speed data link and depend instead on modems for their Internet connection. Even with a 28.8K baud modem, waiting while a Web page is painted on the screen can be cause for a coffee break. Believing computer users are willing to replace a fast hard drive with a modem Internet connection borders on hallucination.

The road warrior class, mobile professionals, such as many corporate safety and health professionals and consultants, cannot afford to be tied to a network. They require independence and depend upon full-featured notebook computers for survival. A toaster just won't cut the mustard.

Falling computer prices also enter into the Internet appliance vs personal computer purchasing equation. Personal computer prices are falling so fast that by year end, you'll be able to pick up a 100 MHz Pentium computer for about $1,200. By the time Internet toasters roll off the assembly line, the price differential versus a full-featured computer will be marginal as manufacturers design systems to compete directly with the toasters.

Intranets on the Rise

Larger businesses, corporations and government agencies, on the other hand, should find Internet appliances very attractive. These groups are busy establishing "intranets," internal TCP/IP networks which use World-Wide Web servers and browsers to share organizational information. …

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