Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Does a missing posting suggest Apple will deploy a multiuser GUI? (And overturn the computing world?)

Apple - Discussions - Welcome

I recently learned that a posting I'd just made to Apple's Discussions forum is gone. It wasn't a rude posting, indeed it wasn't even a critical posting. It was an advocacy posting, asking when Apple would make the big move towards a multiuser GUI and thin client wireless deployment.

Now it's possible some technical glitch took my message. However, I naturally prefer the more intriguing possibility. I prefer to to think my posting was deleted. Since it was (honestly) a quite polite posting (my iPhoto postings are far more critical and they persist), I wonder if it touched a nerve. Is something afoot?

Anyone who's used Microsoft's remote desktop client on a wireless iBook has to come away very impressed. Every copy of XP includes Microsoft's SINGLE user remote desktop server (a limited version of their Citrix-derived multiuser remote desktop), and there are free clients for every version of Windows and for the Mac. It works terribly well. Rather than buy the clumsy Mac version of Quicken to do my bookeeping on my iBook, I can use my upstairs XP box remotely. There's a bit of keystroke lag, due in part to the relatively slow iBook CPU, but it's far better than VNC.

For me, it's the best thing in my mixed OS home LAN since Gopher.

Microsoft could have made XP a multiuser GUI server; they've done it for years in their server platform. They were on the verge of deploying the next phase with the Mira project. They didn't. I can only guess the thought of demolishing Intel and Dell chastened even Microsoft. Their existing Citrix-derived multiuser GUI is good enough that many homes and small businesses would buy only one multimedia server, and then deploy thin clients using ARM or another embedded CPU Microsoft also, for very good reason, must have feared the impact on Office licenses. So they passed.

Apple could pull the trigger. They are stealthily making their X-Windows client more and more a part of OS X (it's needed for OpenOffice). They have Quartz, a beautiful framework for distributing video. The underlying OS is, of course, BSD Unix -- multiuser by nature. They have the perfect server in the dual CPU G5. They have the iBook, a great thin client that can also be used outside the home in detached mode. They have 802.11G working across the product line. Their sync technology is a very good fit, allowing local CPU to complement the server CPU in interesting ways. They bundle so much software they can manage the licensing hit, they have a mechanism for renting software (.Mac) that's already been shown to work (Apple Backup). They even have their old Remote Desktop code, though I suspect that may be of little value. They don't care if Dell and Intel both crater.

With a great solution for server and thin client already in hand, with the Apple slates rumored to be in development, with the multimedia genes to use the server for video and music distribution to the clients, with the .Mac platform, with little to lose and an empire to gain, the equation looks irresistible. Apple can't resist. They've got to make the jump Microsoft turned back from.

When Apple jumps, they will fly. Less than 5% of households can keep one Windows machine running smoothly, much less a network of Windows machines serving parents and schoolchildren alike. The value of a thin client approach is overwhelming. Microsoft has been teetering on the edge, but they're too big to make this kind of jump. Apple can do it.

john faughnan

meta: jfaughnan, jgfaughnan, Apple, OS X, X-Windows, multi-user GUI, remote desktop, home, wireless LAN, 802.11G, project Mira, thin client, iBook, slate, palmtop

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