IT intelligence: IT trends

Robin Fisk on an old IT trend that's poised for a successful comeback.

Even in the technology industry - known for its forward-thinking, futuristic mentality - old ideas come back into vogue. Those of us who committed crimes of fashion in the 70s by wearing flares of unwise diameter spent most of the 80s getting over the embarrassment, only to find them making a comeback in the 90s. But for some reason they didn't look as daft second time around. And my CD and vinyl collection is regaining credibility (or so I like to think) as the songs appear as samples in today's hit parade, or whatever it's called now.

The computer terminals that occupied desks in the 80s were known as dumb terminals. They had neither disk storage nor a processing brain of their own, relying on the power of the central computer to do the work and simply present it on the screen - usually in green. The PC revolution moved processing power and storage to the desktop.

However, PCs were just that - personal computers that weren't designed to work together across a network. Networking was added to PCs and then we had machines on our desks that worked both alone and from a server. Increased server power and the internet saw processing power becoming centralised again, so we now use a PC and its web browser as a 21st-century dumb terminal. The problem is that we're still buying overpowered PCs to use largely as dumb terminals - and often we don't need the power we buy.

The industry's response is to offer stripped down, network-ready devices such as the Asus Eee PC, with its increased portability over conventional laptops. They are the dumb terminals of the future, if you will, only better, which is the whole point: doing an old thing better. That's progress. So the question is, what's next for a revival - mobile phone 'bricks', anyone?

- Robin Fisk is managing director of software company Fisk Brett.

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