In 1998 I attended a mini conference at Sun Microsystems in Redwood City, California. I was there because a more seasoned teacher, Larry, who had taken me under his wing, told me it
would be fun. We sat in a small conference hall with a bunch of engineers while a bespectacled, big-haired guy at the front of the room spat monotone, yet somehow inspiring, prose about the future of personal computing. I believe that speaker was Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun, who would two years later pen the essay, “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us.” for Wired Magazine.
Joy used phrases like network computing, thin clients, and ubiquitous access. It all sounded so 2010 back then. When his address finished, the audience moved to the perimeter of the room to carry out internet searches on Yahoo with Netscape browsers on what appeared to be naked keyboards connected to a CRT monitor. The experience was quite like the one I am having right now with a wireless keyboard and an iMac, that on the surface appears to only be a monitor, except that both the keyboard and the mouse had wires. These were terminal machines, and it was shocking (back then) to be using a computer without a hard-drive spinning, fan-blowing tower to cramp your leg space under the desk.
Joy had explained that users would not have to be concerned with downloading and updating
software (from 3 ½” floppy disks!), storing files on their hard drives, or even viruses. Computing
would be done by bigger computers somewhere in the building or perhaps in another building,
and users could all enjoy the same software.
This last part blew my mind. I could not wrap my head around how two users could be using the
same version of Word to type up a science test. The IBM 486 machine I had in my classroom
could barely run the software for me alone. I was dubious.