Monday, April 23, 2012

"Dumb Terminals" return

When the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds first installed computers in the late 1980s, they consisted of Wang workstations that were directly wired into a Wang minicomputer server via coax cable (the type that brings content to your television).  The workstations could do nothing on their own; they were entirely dependent on accessing the content on the central server.  Then, as personal computers became (much) more affordable, they gradually replaced dumb terminals for a variety of reasons.  The PCs offered more flexibility - they could operate and store data on their own but also be connected to a network server - and they moved away from the proprietary operating systems of fading computer companies such as Wang and Digital and utilized the more universally accepted Windows family of operating systems.  Here in Lowell, we replaced our "dumb" terminals with networked PCs back in 1999.

In the past few years there has been a move back towards dumb terminals.  A story in today's Globe explains that MIT's Sloan School of Management, perhaps the most respected business school in the world, has been testing dumb terminals for several years and is about to make the cut over entirely.  Several years ago here at the Middlesex North Registry, we tested a dumb terminal that would replace the PCs that are utilized as our public access terminals.  While the proposed terminals seemed to work fine, the project was put on hold for a variety of reasons (not the least of which was the existing PCs were working just fine).

There are several reasons for this migration back towards dumb terminals.  More and more computing - applications as well as data storage - is now done "in the cloud" which means that everything resides on a remote server that is accessed from a work station, dumb or otherwise.  Dumb terminals are also more resistant to hacking and viruses since nothing really resides on them.  This makes security and upgrades easier to manage.  And despite the relatively low cost of PCs, dumb terminals are even cheaper since there is little inside of them.   

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