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Software Technology

Jumping From Computer To Computer 474

Roland Piquepaille writes "Imagine a world where computers become so ubiquitous that the idea of carrying a laptop will almost be laughable, a world where any computer could be your computer! According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, this is the goal of Intel Research Pittsburgh's Internet Suspend/Resume (ISR) project, a project that may one day let your work jump from computer to computer without interruption by using the Internet, distributed file systems, and virtual machines. When the non-proprietary technology becomes available, a user will suspend a task on the computer he's working on, and resume this work using another computer in another part of a city or several thousands of miles away. The second system will look identical to the first one, with the same files and applications opened. This technology would also ease OS upgrades or eliminate the pain coming from a hard disk failure. The project has even a feature named Rollback which would permit to go back in time, eliminating these pesky viruses. A pilot test will start this fall, so don't expect to be able to use ISR for a while. You'll find more details and references in this overview."
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Jumping From Computer To Computer

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  • Well... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Steamhead ( 714353 )
    I use scripts to sync my work all the time. I don't see what the big deal is here.
    • Even more than that, thin client and terminal server applications have been around forever. Sure the scale would be cool, but there is nothing new here.
      • Re:Well... (Score:5, Informative)

        by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) <akaimbatman&gmail,com> on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:49AM (#9642312) Homepage Journal
        Even more than that, thin client and terminal server applications have been around forever.

        Indeed. These guys are WAY late to the ballgame. Sun Microsystems already puts out a "log in anywhere" product in the form of the Sun Ray Stations. The network can be configured so that access can be attained over the Internet from any Ray Station, anywhere. All you need is your security "smart-card" that tells the machine where your server is. Sun has even been whispering about a laptop version called "The Comet" that provides people with an "On the go" Ray Station. (I REALLY wish I'd saved that Sun Boardroom Minutes. That was a really neat piece of hardware.)
        • Re:Well... (Score:5, Informative)

          by Octorian ( 14086 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @11:10AM (#9642576) Homepage
          Oh, you mean this []?
          Yes, already on the market. I saw one on display at a technology show a few weeks ago. Shares the same chasis as one of their normal Sun laptops, though without all the peripherals built in. Only kink is that the wireless is 802.11b, not 802.11g. (FYI, I think the retail price is around $1500, which actually isn't more than some of the fully-integrated desktop models Sun makes) Also, it supposedly has 6-8 hour battery life.
        • So what... (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Ayanami Rei ( 621112 ) *
          I mean, even with the SunRay, it's like, whoo-hoo, we combined VNC and H.263 and you should jump for friggin' joy.

          You can already do it with rdesktop and windows, vnc and any vnc-enabled graphical environment, even X11 if you have the right kind of proxy extension enabled. I'm just waiting for someone to polish up a client for the SunRay protocol (it's mostly understood, but no one seems to care enough for someone to finish a client...)

          I don't think anyone really wants this.

          I think a visual protocol is t
          • Re:So what... (Score:5, Informative)

            by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) <akaimbatman&gmail,com> on Thursday July 08, 2004 @12:11PM (#9643366) Homepage Journal
            I mean, even with the SunRay, it's like, whoo-hoo, we combined VNC and H.263 and you should jump for friggin' joy.

            Actually, Sun Rays are really much more advanced than VNC. A bit more like Citrix ICA. Either way, it's cool technology. Just because Sun has packaged it better than everyone else doesn't invalidate their claim on the market. Personally, I'd love to have a Sun Ray network. I could take my smart card and work anywhere I want. No being tied to a desk with really bad lighting. I'll just take the comet downstairs to the Starbucks and actually get some work done! ;-)

            I don't think anyone really wants this.

            Actually, I think Sun's biggest problem is how expensive it is. I know of many people who would love to buy a used Sun machine and a few Sun Rays just to wire their house. But when their software costs more than the machine, you know you've got a problem. That's the same thing that killed NT Terminal Server. Citrix ICA was doing quite well with WinFrame until Microsoft pulled a fast one on them.

            I think a visual protocol is too specific. The work needs to be in creating a widget/RPC API that lets you splat a standardized local GUI onto remote application servers.

            Myself and others have spent a lot of time trying to figure out the best way to do this. I did some on renovating AppliWeb up until XWT [] showed up. So far, XWT seems to be the best option. We'll see what the future holds, though.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Like the "underwear" quote below, people won't move from virtual computer to virtual computer any more than they move from cell phone to cell phone ( or toothbrush to toothbrush).

      Sure, there are limited cases as noted in many of the other posts, but those are limited, and selective. Its one thing for someone to set up several of their own PCs and sync work from one to another. Its totally another to sell people on the idea of using "public PCs" the way people used to use public phones. The minute they had
    • Re:Well... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by swordboy ( 472941 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:49AM (#9642305) Journal
      I don't see what the big deal is here.

      The big deal is making it easy for Joe User to do it every day without thinking. I should remind you that Joe User is no scripting wizard.

      Intel's Digital Briefcase [] will be realized with the introduction of the following technologies:

      1) High-density, low-power, nonvolatile memory
      2) Integrated logic & wireless

      At this point, the Personal Server [] becomes feasible. A specification for "personal server compliant" operating systems helps any compliant PC in the world "log on to you", as they say in Soviet Russia. All of your preferences down to the last minute detail (wallpaper, favorites, browsing history, etc) will immediately be transferred to this particular PC and it will be as if it were your own.

      This is close. Since Microsoft will try to "embrace and extend" this to the point that we can't use these devices without Windows, the open-source community will need to rapidly develop this into an open, robust standard that will work with all PCs. I give it two years... Power consumption will be the biggest issue. Otherwise, you could stick a WiFi link on an iPod and do it now (though I suppose it could be done with a cable that also supplies power).
  • Hmmn... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:27AM (#9641983) when Windows BSODs and you change to the next machine in the lab, you'll still have to sit and wait for it to restart?
  • by CommanderData ( 782739 ) * <kevinhi@yahoo . c om> on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:27AM (#9641984)
    From the article:
    Despite their outward sameness, most computers are so personalized with desktop preferences and software that borrowing someone's computer can seem as creepy as borrowing their underwear.

    Does this mean that borrowing someone else's underwear could be made less creepy if it were made to look like your own? Will we laugh at people someday for actually travelling with luggage- Ha ha, fools- I just use the underwear that is laying around at the hotel?!

    Seriously, who would use this? How long will it be after introduction before someone comes up with a way to hack/hijack an Internet Suspend/Resume account and get all of your data?
    • by cerberusss ( 660701 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:37AM (#9642141) Homepage Journal
      How long will it be after introduction before someone comes up with a way to hack/hijack an Internet Suspend/Resume account and get all of your data?

      Your shell account can also be hacked. But that doesn't stop people from using Screen [], now does it?

      Instead of laughing about how noone will use this, try to come up with how you could make it secure and usable instead.

      • by Surlyboi ( 96917 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:49AM (#9642303) Homepage Journal
        Instead of laughing about how noone will use this, try to come up with how you could make it secure and usable instead.

        Why? The parent has no stake in making this work and honestly, I don't see why anyone would want to do this. I like my laptop and the way I've configured it and customized it. PersonaIization is what makes a lot of peoples' machines what they are. don't want to have to resort to using some random public terminal somewhere.

        Here's an slight corrolary, I ran out of the house without my cellphone yesterday. I needed to make a call, realized I'd forgotten my phone and then ran around for the next 10 minutes looking for a payphone that wasn't either broken or covered in mystery spooge. Rest assured that most of these public terms will probably suffer the same fate. At least in the larger cities.
        • by randyest ( 589159 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:55AM (#9642385) Homepage
          I'm with you on the yuckiness of public-shared computers. But when you say:

          I don't see why anyone would want to do this. I like my laptop and the way I've configured it and customized it. PersonaIization is what makes a lot of peoples' machines what they are. don't want to have to resort to using some random public terminal somewhere.

 seem to have missed the point. From what I gather, this system would allow you to enjoy all those customizations (software, at least) wherever you are. You'd also be able to roll-back your system to any of an array of pre-saved states.

          Maybe you have PC at work, and a PC at home, and a laptop you rarely use in the car. Wherever you are, grab one (non-yucky, I hope), plug in, and get your environment exactly as you left it. I do this with screen and sometimes citrix, and it's handy.

          I, for one, don't like carrying a laptop (or much of anything, for that matter.)
      • This might be EXTREMELY useful for corporate LAN/WAN's. Althought just switching to something like the Linux Terminal Server Project might provide almost all of the same functionality...

        To get the desired functionality at any machine (even Macs?) those machines would already have to be running the client software. So it would not be ANY computer.

        Not to mention security. All it would take would be to add a keystroke logger to the machine and you've captured someone's username/password.

        • by Macka ( 9388 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @01:56PM (#9644638)

          Project Athena at MIT already did all of this, back in 1983. Digital Equipment Co Ltd (DEC) even took the technology, productized it and told it onto some Universities in the UK. And all with (at the time) state of the art MIPS Unix workstations.

          Here's a link with some info about the MIT implementation:

 .1 9f.html

          It was really cool technology and way ahead of its time. The only reason it didn't take over the world was because of the prohibitive price of RISC workstations back then. Way too expensive for a corporate desktop. Shame really.

          Those who don't understand Unix are doomed to reinvent it, poorly!
      • by NNKK ( 218503 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @11:16AM (#9642651) Homepage
        There isn't a way to make it secure. Untrusted hardware is untrusted hardware, and there is no way around it. You have no way of knowing that terminal you just walked up to doesn't have a keystroke logger (or worse) attached to it.
        • by ymgve ( 457563 )
          There's a fairly simple way to make any keylogger useless - one time passwords. I've for some time now had the idea of an extension to VNC that works like this:

          - You connect to your PC and press the 'Request password' button.
          - A one-time password is sent to your preconfigured cell phone number.
          - You log on with this password, and after you're done working you log out, and the password becomes invalid.

          This way, it doesn't matter how insecure the computer you're on is. Worst case, the keylogger only gets a
          • Data logger (Score:5, Insightful)

            by nuggz ( 69912 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @11:39AM (#9642961) Homepage
            So you have logged in, why can't the computer copy all your files or hijack the session while you're using it?

          • by NNKK ( 218503 )
            No, actually, worst case, a simple keylogger gets credit card numbers, correspondance between a person and their SO/lawyer/accountant, serves to break a pseudo-anonimity shield, etc. etc.

            And note the "or worse" in my post. As someone else mentioned, once you're on, the session can be hijacked. Files can be accessed and copied. Anything can happen. Using untrusted hardware for anything sensitive is a terrible mistake, there are no precautions you can take to make it secure.
          • There's a fairly simple way to make any keylogger useless - one time passwords. I've for some time now had the idea of an extension to VNC that works like this:
            - You connect to your PC and press the 'Request password' button.
            - A one-time password is sent to your preconfigured cell phone number.
            - You log on with this password, and after you're done working you log out, and the password becomes invalid.

            This way, it doesn't matter how insecure the computer you're on is. Worst case, the keylogger only ge
      • by Alsee ( 515537 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @01:12PM (#9644129) Homepage
        Instead of laughing about how noone will use this, try to come up with how you could make it secure and usable instead.

        We could run Longhorn on it.

  • Already close (Score:2, Interesting)

    by GigsVT ( 208848 )
    With SSH, "screen", VNC, and X-forwarding, whenever I approach a linux box, I feel right at home, knowing I can connect to my apps, files, and data with little trouble.
  • Um... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Raynach ( 713366 ) * on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:27AM (#9641988) Homepage
    Running VNC or X remotely? Why is this so revolutionary?
    • Re:Um... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dk.r*nger ( 460754 )
      Running VNC or X remotely? Why is this so revolutionary?

      Do real work in VNC/X/Remote Desktop over a 128 kbs DSL and you know the answer to that.

      This will run stuff on the local machine, and limit lags to filetransfers. I can live with a lag of a second or two when I save a file - NEVER a lag of 100-200 ms or even more everytime I hit a key or click my mouse - and this is the reality of X/VNC over anything but very fast connections.
      • Re:Um... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Saeed al-Sahaf ( 665390 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:54AM (#9642378) Homepage
        Do real work in VNC/X/Remote Desktop over a 128 kbs DSL and you know the answer to that.

        Yes, but assume (if the powers that be at the Internet providers decide to allow it...) conectivity imporves and bandwidth is not an issue? We are getting closer and closer to that every day. Some public utilities have started to bring fibre to the door of every house in their district. Some day soon this will be common. At that point your argument will nolonger be valid.

      • Re:Um... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Dr Caleb ( 121505 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:56AM (#9642398) Homepage Journal
        Do real work in VNC/X/Remote Desktop over a 128 kbs DSL and you know the answer to that.

        Try using VNC over a 64k Frame line. (It's not so bad if you remember to set the desktop to 640X480 and 256 colours.) Now try driving 6 hours to get to the same machine. Which was a better use of your time?

        It might suck, but sometimes it is faster to VNC or Remote X in to a machine.

        • Re:Um... (Score:3, Insightful)

          by dk.r*nger ( 460754 )
          That's true - and I do that myself (although the drive would be more like 20 minutes .. but involving getting *out* :-| )

          But it depends on what kind of work you do. Adding a few users to a Win2003 server and sharing a directory (which is what I do over VNC) or anything that takes less than half an hour is alright over VNC. But my nerves would really wear out if I were to type a paper or a long email over a lagging VNC-connection.
    • Re:Um... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by arth1 ( 260657 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:49AM (#9642298) Homepage Journal
      XDMCP and remote X servers have been in use for ages.
      (In X, the server runs on the client, while the clients run on the server.)

      It always baffles me why people use VNC or convoluted scripts to copy over the settings when most of the time, remote X would do the job just fine. Possibly because the man pages for X in general and remote X in particular are not meant to be read by Normal People?

      • Re:Um... (Score:4, Informative)

        by bgarcia ( 33222 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @11:13AM (#9642612) Homepage Journal
        It always baffles me why people use VNC... when most of the time, remote X would do the job just fine.
        That's like wondering why people use "screen" when "telnet" will do the job just fine.

        All of these programs let you access a machine remotely, but screen & VNC allow you to keep a particular session alive while you access it from different locations. With remote X (or telnet), if you want to access the server from a different location, you have to log in again, starting a new session. With screen or VNC, you are continuing an already opened session. Any programs that you were running are still there, unchanged. Read up on VNC a little more and try to understand the implications of this feature. It really is a nice feature, above and beyond what X provides.

    • Re:Um... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Epistax ( 544591 )
      Sorry I didn't RTFM, but I think that's missing the point. What you are describing is using one computer to be a terminal for another computer. I believe what they mean is one computer being a terminal to your data. That is your data may not exist on a personal system of your own, but more of a ubiquitous system where your stuff may not be in any specific location at any time. Imagine an system with hundreds of millions of nodes just with plain old data. You log in through a terminal (probably holds da
  • Uh, right. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Jaywalk ( 94910 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:27AM (#9641997) Homepage
    Someday in the future, once people have stopped giggling about how all telephones once were wired to the wall, they'll still have trouble containing their laughter about laptop computers.
    <SARCASM> That's right, and cell phones are just a fad. After all, there are phones all over the place, so why would anyone want to carry their own? </SARCASM>

    Computers keep shrinking and prices keep dropping. Why depend on a remote site to host your desktop when you could keep the same data in your watch [], jackknife [] or wallet []?

    • Maybe because you don't want to carry around the 15 inch lcd and keyboard required to do actual work? I dunno, I think this could be cool, though the security problems seem basically unsolvable--typing on someone else's keyboard is never trustworthy, and how could we prevent a kiosk from being able to observe what your mobile virtual machine is doing?
      • Re:Uh, right. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by SerpentMage ( 13390 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:43AM (#9642215)
        eeehhhhh.... NOT....

        People like to own things, whether it be a car, home, clothes, etc. Only when there is no other choice will be use "communal" stuff (electricity, etc)

        When I went to University we had this "virtual" computer concept (University of Waterloo). Everything was networked and you could log on anywhere and get access to your files and programs.

        YET people who could afford it bought their own computer. Simple reason why:
        1) Can use the computer when you want to
        2) Can put silly stickers and colors on your computer and using your own keyboard and mouse. Remember not everybody wants to use an American keyboard and push mouse. I need a trackball because I have problems with my fingers.
        3) Have access to a computer, without the hassle of finding one. Imagine going from your office to a library. With a laptop it is called suspend. Going from the office to library first means finding a free computer at the library.

        Nope, generally speaking silly idea....
    • Re:Uh, right. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Azghoul ( 25786 )
      Why keep each data in your separate devices? It's far more interesting if everything you have digitally is accessible from anywhere, like an IMAP connection is for email.

      The trouble for me is, I like my personal machines. Not just the settings, which are relatively painless to transfer (since I don't use Windows when possible), but rather, the hardware: I love my particular old Marble FX trackball and NMB keyboard...

    • Even smaller USB flash drive [].

      Though I've seen one that's even smaller, actually as flat as a creditcard.
    • Re:Uh, right. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Gingko ( 195226 )
      This is *exactly* right. Having terminals everywhere isn't the point, but having computers everywhere *is*. We're not far away from a situation where (initially only in localised areas) a computing substrate is ubiquitously available to all at all physical locations: the infrastructure might as well be wired/wireless Internet. The middleware is the key because processes are no longer tied to a particular computer. Processes and the underlying hardware can be supplied by separate vendors, and the process can
      • Re:Uh, right. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by ThosLives ( 686517 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @11:06AM (#9642527) Journal
        You've failed to ask the most important question, which several other people have brought up in previous posts:

        Where is your data stored? How do you manage who owns the data? Do you own the data if you don't own the media on which it's stored? How do you enforce this?

        Part of the reason people like their own cars, houses, whatever, is that they *own* it and it's tangible. People don't like to license music on a CD - the want to own the CD and do whatever they want with it (and the music on it - most people who advocate fair use aren't in the business of redistributing the music off the CD they purchased).

        The issues of security and technological barriers aside, the issues of intellectual property and having control over your own [stuff] will become what's important...

    • Roaming Profile (Score:3, Interesting)

      I actually had the idea while working with special USB encryption devices.

      Would it be an interesting and novel concept to have a key that allows you to plug it into a pub terminal (with appropriate package) that allows you to have your user profile and preferences on it?

      IE you could buy USB device/key, set up your desktop environment on it, and then be able to carry it around with you from terminal to terminal. Perhaps keeping the general windows user structure on the key (IE my documents/mypictures fold
  • Umm.. Security? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by leperkuhn ( 634833 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:28AM (#9642009) Homepage Journal
    Maybe the average Joe won't care but I would rather have everything stored on my laptop that I physically carry with me. Why would I trust a random computer? Boo these men.
  • So they just invented X-windows, or nfs?
    • If I understand it correctly from the vague descriptions I've read, i think it's more like using Bochs or something similar to emulate a PC, and being able to suspend/restore/rollback the state of the emulator (just like zsnes! heh heh)--and also giving you the ability to restore and supend across a network.

      It seems to me there are huge security risks involved with such an approach, but I haven't read very far.

  • Back to the Future (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DaRat ( 678130 ) * on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:28AM (#9642013)
    You mean, sort of like logging into an old VT100 or X terminal connected to a central computer system except on a larger scale?
  • Rollback? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Biogenesis ( 670772 ) <overclocker,brent&optushome,com,au> on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:29AM (#9642021) Homepage
    OK, so let my just think a little bit here. You get a virus that remains dormant for say, 6 months. Then sudennly it does something really bad to your computer so what do you do? Rollback 1 day and have it screw up the next day or rollback 6 months and lose 6 months work? I think a litte more thought has to be put into that feature....Or maybe I should RTFA.
    • Re:Rollback? (Score:3, Informative)

      by Biogenesis ( 670772 )
      OK, I read enough of the article:

      If a user's computer becomes infected, she could use the Rollback feature to go back to an arbitrary point in time prior to the infection and resume work there, deleting the subsequent work -- and the virus.

      So I was right with my original assumption, if the virus simply hangs low for x days you rollback and still lose x days work.
  • Sun Ray (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FireDoctor ( 11071 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:30AM (#9642026)
    Sun's has had this working for years on Sun Ray [] thin clients. Your working session is frozen when you remove a smart card, and is resumed on another appliance when you put the smart card back in. It works all over the country, so a session can be resumed anywhere.
    • In this case, the java card stores a reasonably small amount of identifying data, enough for the server to be able to hunt down your state and run it.

      As the memory on the card increases, or if you use a bigger card (e.g., a USB memory stick) you can carry more around with you. In principle, this could easily be your context in a portable form, such as a java program... which may be why Sun currently uses a java card for its smart-card (;-))


    • And will this require a dedicated switches/really high-bandwidth like the sun ray? (At least the Sun Ray used to require that .... haven't looked at them in a while, well ... since I saw a demo by Sun 'round 2000).

      Sun Ray was the first thing I thought of when I saw this. Of course ... I also like the underwear analogy [] made earlier ... very good point! I guess your underwear is really executed on the server in this case?

  • You can already jump from machine to machine using Remote Desktop... Not EXACTLY what the article's talking about, but you can achieve the same effect by being able to control "your" machine from any other. However, the technology is still lagging in terms of response time and cross-platform compatibility. If Remote Desktop ran from any browser, and somehow went really, really fast, that would be pretty close.
  • I do this already using Terminal Services to log into my laptop at the office - whether I'm at home (in the UK), or at my parents-in-law in Canada. And yes, I leave stuff running on my machine, editors open, and go home, log in and I'm working exactly where I left off.

    Also amusing to find, that when I'm in Canada, log into my VPN and browse the network, it shows my work PC under "Computers Near Me". I wouldn't call 3,500 miles near!

  • by 4lex ( 648184 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:31AM (#9642052) Homepage Journal
    ...doesn't eliminate the problem of pesky viruses and the like (file corruption, unnoticed errors...). You don't always inmediately notice something is wrong, so you keep working. To go back in time a few hours/days might not be an option, if malware hits with high frequency. A cvs-like system might do the trick, although.

    (Just my two off-topic eurocents).
  • by 59Bassman ( 749855 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:31AM (#9642053) Journal
    However the whole business model of the software industry would have to change. How would you manage licences for users across such a huge terminal system? I'd expect you'd have to pay for a monthly fee for access to your applications, something that a lot of folks would probably not look kindly upon.

    This would also make it very difficult for any non-standard OS (Linux, MacOS, BSD) to get a foothold once it gets going - I'd guess you would be pretty limited in just what you could have loaded in order to use this system.

    I dunno. It's an interesting concept, but I have my doubts. I actually like managing my own systems. I'd rather have the control than hand it over to a company who's going to do upgrades without my knowledge.

  • Beautiful (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 12357bd ( 686909 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:32AM (#9642063)

    Beautiful idea, but I want to carry his memory/state with me on a little and duplicable box or card.

  • resume my game of Command and Conquer Generals from anywhere? I can see the productivity numbers dropping off the chart already.
  • Even if strong encyption is used, you still run the risk of hardware keyloggers.
  • DRM (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    this seems like a sneaky and highly effective way to deploy global DRM, to me. Especially the bit about 'not troubling with OS upgrades'.
  • by arieswind ( 789699 ) * on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:33AM (#9642090) Homepage
    Apparently the ultimate goal is to eventually have ISR software running on every computer in the public domain. What is in this article is a good first step, but even if they can make the process and the software bulletproof, there are still many problems left to be faced:

    1. Most people have lots of data on their computers (here, I define a 'lot' as over 10 GB of data). Even if they were only using say 200 mb of data, at today's broadband transfer speeds, that could take 10 minutes to transfer, or much more if they can only get dialup speeds.
    2. As I said, most people have lots of stuff on their HD's (I for one always have 80-100GB on my HD). Where are they going to get the space to store 100GB(or more) for every person who is going to use the system? It will cost them a fortune just in the cost of disk space, not to mention bandwidth to transfer the running state of all these systems.
    3. It might seem obvious to some, but how are they planning on getting the system into widespread use? If you haven't noticed, people tend to resist change, and even if they do get it into wide use, not everyone will use it, so there will still be computers you cant just walk up to and use.
    4. If it costs money to use the service, I guarantee it will take a lot longer to get into widespread use. The only place I can really see it being worth the cost would be in a business setting, where you could sit down at any computer and it would be like you are sitting at your own desk.

    In conclusion, good idea, but it needs major work, and there are many major major problems to be solved before it "revolutionizes" computing
  • The future is now. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Zapman ( 2662 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:33AM (#9642092)
    Well, with Sun's 'sunray' stuff. YOu carry a smart card, pop it in, do your work. Mid work, pull the card, and the screen goes blank. Pop the card in another computer, and your work is still there.

    The future is 10 years ago.

    Well, with Xterminals... dummy boxes with small system image, loading a desktop off the central server.

    The future is 20 years ago.

    Well, with mainframe technology, and 3270 terminals.
    • by pz ( 113803 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:57AM (#9642414) Journal
      And in academia, we were moving computations across *heterogeneous* architectures mid-flight in the early 90s. That is, we could arrest a computation running on a Sun, move the computation to a Lisp Machine, have it continue for a while, arrest it again, move it to some custom hardware, and so forth. This wasn't just changing where the output was displayed (as in changing one's X terminal while retaining the same central server), but changing where the base computation was happening. For the curious, it was called Project L.
  • What's really missing is a tiny standardized robust plugable hard-disk that provides the 20+Gb needed for a personal workspace. For the rest: any PC running a standard suite of applications (Mozilla, OpenOffice). In extremis, a bootable CD.

    I almost do this today but USB flash disks are too slow for the purpose.

    It should also be possible to package a complete OS, applications, and data onto a portable storage device, then load the OS, applications, and data through an emulation layer on the host system.
    • It's here already (Score:4, Interesting)

      by krray ( 605395 ) * on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:48AM (#9642292)
      And it's called the iPod.

      It's tiny standardized robust plugable hard-disk (Firewire based) and 5G is all that I need to "keep running". That's enough space to have the core OS [X] and my Applications directory tree (which is absolutely loaded with only ~3G used).

      I'm able to listen to my music anywhere -- and boot "my computer" on any Mac I encounter ... without disrupting the current Mac configuration whatsoever except for the needed reboot. Emulation layer suggested _is_ being worked on... :)
  • GoToMyPC?? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by the_rajah ( 749499 ) * on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:34AM (#9642101) Homepage
    Can't you already do basically that same thing with GoToMyPC? []

    "Do the Right Thing. It will gratify some people and astound the rest." - Mark Twain
  • Imagine that! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by barcodez ( 580516 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:34AM (#9642103)
    Don't really have to imagine anything Sunrays [] already do this - just they aren't widely deployed. Is it just my or is it getting boring having people think things don't exist just because Microsoft isn't doing it.
  • ... how rollback that one of those virus, trojans, etc sent the passwords you typed to some email or irc channel? Virus damage is not just altering the filesystem. And if well having a lot of things in the web enables me to do all that is related to that in any computer connected to internet, that don't means that any of those computers is trustable enough to write there passwords, credit card numbers, etc.
  • This is UNIVAC! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Ateocinico ( 32734 )
    The late Isaac Asimov wrote about a single
    computer that had acces points in the style of an ATM machine, all around the world. The bad thing is that the computer, tired of that burden, tried to commit siucide hiring some terrorists for the job.
    Do not put all your eggs in the same basket...
  • I know this has been said a thousand times before, but network apps are going to be the wave of the future. Look at GMail... that's better than a lot of mail clients out there, and thanks to its minimalist interface it's not all that slow on a decent connection. Already your mail application is portable to any machine with a browser.

    With XUL and XAML fighting for market dominance, it's clear that the future of computing lies with small, portable, web-based applications for particular purposes. GMail is ju

  • As the data we keep on our computers becomes more and more valuable, people are less likely to be happy with accessing their information across the internet.

    Within the next 10 years, portable computers will be separate from cell phones, but they will start to approach the size of an old tape walkman or iPod. They will completely replace PDAs. They'll have a small touchscreen, builtin WiFi connection, DVI out, as well as Bluetooth or equivilent and probably one USB and one Firewire port.

    You'll be crazy to
  • by Hiro Antagonist ( 310179 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:39AM (#9642167) Journal
    The Unix Guys at work (e.g., me and my boss) recently sent out a memo to all corporate employees about logging in from public terminals. Because they are outside of company and/or individual control, it isn't possible to know what sort of software is running on them. Concordantly, it's quite possible that any given public terminal has a keylogger, packet-dumper, and any other type of spyware you would care to name.

    Note that this memo wasn't just idle paranoia; we sent it out after having some IP address in Korea attempt to log in to our corporate webmail server, after one of our salesdroids checked her mail from a public terminal in the lobby of a business hotel. He had her username, password, and who knows what else in the way of corporate data, all from her using a public PC.

    Me? I'll stick with bringing my laptop around, even if it looks funny, just like I stick to using GPG and public-key encryption on my emails.
  • I am an Englishman, living in London, and working for a Danish company. I often visit my company in Denmark, where all the computers have their keys laid out completely differently from the QWERTY layout that we all know and love. That's before you even get into the positioning of all the non-alphanumerics, and without beginning to fear the special Danish characters like the "o" with a diagonal slash through it.

    How is Internet Suspend/Resume going to make those keyboards usable to me?

  • What goes around ... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by torpor ( 458 )
    ... comes around.

    We've had this ability since the birth of computers, we just keep coming up with 'whiz-bang' junk that prevents us from maintaining it, as a feature, across consequent generations of computer technology.

    seems like the further we get from the 80's, the more we forget about just how productive things truly were back then ... thank you Microsoft, for de-composing computer tech ...
  • Running Citrix in the office; anyone can log in at any desktop and it connects them directly to Citrix. No local apps, no local data, all work done in Citrix.

    When they get home, they connect through a web page which redirects them to the same Citrix box. Anywhere in the the world, any computer system, they can connect to the office (as long as they can install the ICA client). Client exists for Macs, *nix, PocketPC, EPOC, Java... sounds like it's already ubiquitous to me.

  • Sun demonstrated something very like this at JavaOne a few years ago. It got me thinking about the fundamental failures of this sort of approach.

    See, I *want* to have my own machine, as if you compromise the hardware, it's game over. So ubiquitious machines won't work -- it's too easy to get in there and compromise the system.

    So I'm going to want my own keyboard (or input device). I might as well provide all the rest of the system, except perhaps for some local RAM, some additional CPU power, and a ne

  • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:42AM (#9642203) Homepage
    It sounds like interesting and worthwhile work, but some of the projected benefits are silly and the projected risks are not discussed at all.

    For example: "If a user's computer becomes infected, she could use the Rollback feature to go back to an arbitrary point in time prior to the infection and resume work there, deleting the subsequent work -- and the virus."

    There are several reasons why that statement is idiotic.

    1) This exact capability has, of course, been available for several years now, first as the commercial product GoBack, then as a built-in feature in Windows XP. (And it has done nothing substantial to solve the virus problem).

    2) The breeziness with which the reporter acknowledges that using this capability would "delete the subsequent work" is astonishing. Most of us would not like losing one, two, or several days' work.

    3) If you always were aware of the exact moment at which you acquired a virus, viruses would be a relatively small problem. The fact is, you don't know.

    4) There's even a nonzero probability that in going back to a time when you did not have the virus that you might also be undoing security patches preventing you from acquiring new viruses.
  • Security (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nuggz ( 69912 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:42AM (#9642205) Homepage
    Am I expected to trust someones computer?
    Very easy to put in a keyboard, mouse, USB key sniffer in.

    If I can't trust my own computer running the 'standard' OS, how can I trust someone elses.

    People have finally gotten to understand they must keep their bank PIN number secret, they should be able to understand putting it into random computers is also a bad idea.
  • I don't know about all this science fiction whoop-tee-do, but I've been using removable hard drives (those nifty cassettes that you put hard drives in) for years. As little as 20 gigs, you have your OS and data ready to go in any machine that can take the cassette.

    But what this really sounds like to me is the OLD model of thin clients being served from a mainframe some place, or good old VPN.

  • This sounds suspiciously like the initial propaganda for Microsoft .Net - having both software and, eventually, storage hosted in secure online sites. Computing as a service not a product.
  • My most important apps are mail and browsing. Between work and public library terminals, I have daily access. Even if I am traveling in far-off cities and countries.
  • we have this in one of the offices here. It's called Linux terminal Server. set down at any pc, log in and voila!

    Sun also had a system like this for decades. it's entirely possible inside of a company with an OS other than windows.

    and yes it could be done in windows, but for much much more money.
  • How about... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by burns210 ( 572621 ) <> on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:45AM (#9642252) Homepage Journal
    A pendrive/ipod (in size, harddrive space) bluetooth enabled device that carried core applications and your home folder? Wether in be a unix-style home folder layour, or an xml/generic folder layout that has an abstraction to windows/unix/linux(various conflicting layouts in unixes). and OFCOURSE, the drive, preferably solid-state, would be encrypted with a public key...

    I walk up to an unused machine, sit down, the login script/screen detects my bluetooth device, notices that is a user account storage device, and prompts for a username/password that is checked against the device via encrypted bluetooth... If successful, links, shortcuts, small apps(putty), documents, contacts, email, etc.. are all 'loaded' onto the local machine, as if i were at my home computer...

    Even better if these were on a linux/x11 setup so we could do some automatic screen attach/detach scripts on all processes/programs running!
  • Issues (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sdjunky ( 586961 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:45AM (#9642257)
    There are some issues involved with this.
    1. Where are the applications and data really going to be stored?
    2. Who has access to this information/hardware?
    3. Can I trust that a terminal doesn't have a keylogger (hardware/software) attached to it?
    4. How traceable will this be if somebody gains access to my "environment" without my permission.
  • by Wizzy Wig ( 618399 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:47AM (#9642274)
    Every so often, another longwinded study pops up with an innovative "computers for the masses" tech that boils down, once again, to Thin Client.

    Fifteen years ago, I was one of the Thin Client evangelists trying to keep M$ Win off of the company desktops.

    Thin Client has its place, but so does public transportation... and some people, no matter what, want to "drive their own."

  • A lot of posts seem to be comparing this idea to SunRay thinclients, GoToMyPC remote PC software, or even old dumb xterms. Those comparisons aren't very valid -- please read the article.

    It's more like WindowsXP System Restore -- you dump the complete state of the system to storage on the net, and you can reload that state anytime, from anywhere. Of course, this is much better than system restore in that your system doesn't have to be running at all to use it. In the example in the article, the guy del
  • Many people have already pointed out that this is already possible via things like Windows Terminal Services, but have only referenced corporate setups. I tried out an Internet based provider over 2 years ago that sold a subscription to a Windows desktop with Office over TS. Unfortunately, there were still a lot of rough edges for personal use of such technology. For one thing, the service felt compelled to lock down nearly everything; it was nearly impossible to create even a desktop shortcut. And forg

  • by peragrin ( 659227 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:49AM (#9642311)
    Now let me explain.

    I want to carry a small device(possibly like an iPod, I can listen to my music on it, but it is primarily a portable HD)

    I walk up to ANY computer and insert the device. I press a button. The computer loads MY OS setup, and shows my files and settings.

    I use the computer as I need to, press a button, and it ejects my device.

    To make this work, it would require a new kind of hardware setups. The Hardware would have to have a basic OS setup, and an abstraction layer for hardware. for network settings, various video cards etc. It would then at the press of the button, setup an interface layer with the OS on the device, and boot that OS. It would give full hardware access to all local hardware(cd-roms, usb firewire ports, 3D cards etc.

    Apple are you listening? Your the only one who could pull it off.
  • Here it is in it's entirety, just for you, dear /. reader!

    rsync -a /home/$USER $USER@$DOMAIN:/home/$USER
  • by RhettLivingston ( 544140 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:53AM (#9642359) Journal

    For this to be possible, all hardware has to reach the same capability and innovation has to basically halt forever. The desktop environment that I run at home is very personal and consists of both hardware and software. Even assuming everyone had 3 screens and the same keyboard and mouse type as the ones that I use, the bandwidth isn't available to make the applications and data reasonably portable. If you went the approach of just running them all remotely, you would not meet the response requirements for the system to feel right. If you ran everything locally, every machine out there would need a minimum of a 1GB RAM, a high end processor, and high end video cards + you'd need the communications bandwidth to download GBs of data quickly. Either way you're hosed.

    Also, high speed internet is by no means ubiquitous at this point. I live in the eastern US, have only modem access, and there is no promise of that changing at any time soon. And don't say satellite is an option. Its more a joke for various reasons including 400K isn't exactly high speed anymore, you can't really use that for any decent length of time without being throttled, and you can forget running applications remotely or accessing data through a VPN due to latency issues. Anybody visiting me and depending on this system would be out of luck.

    A far better approach is to carry all of the personalization data and have an automatic system for invisibly backing up to multiple secure sites whenever you're "plugged in". Also, a new portable interface paradigm should be developed so that we carry our "screens", "keyboards", and "mice" with us. I envision glasses, contacts, or implants for visualization and the use of cameras, sound and other input mediums to provide data. The trusty old keyboard interface can be faked using a combination of overlaying some space near you with a virtual keyboard and using video analysis to read the keystrokes. More advanced and natural interfaces could also be developed by overlaying and merging virtual reality with the real world around us.

  • Project Athena? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MattGWU ( 86623 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:53AM (#9642371)
    Didn't MIT do this in the 70s and 80s? Project Athena. NFS, kerberos, etc. Looks like they're still doing it; info here [].

    Furthermore, isn't this what 'Active Directory' is supposed to be for? Project Athena always sounded interesting, with a lot of neat stuff behind it, but the idea isn't appealing on a scale much larger than an office park or college campus.
  • by egarland ( 120202 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @11:32AM (#9642875)
    People love to hate the laptop. It's huge, heavy, a pain to travel with, and here to stay.

    There are lots of reasons this concept wont work. Security, compatibility, terminal and bandwidth availability are all issues with this approach. Each year laptops get significantly lighter, faster, cheaper and more popular. I heard a statistic recently that it's that soon (possibly happened already) more computers purchased will be laptops than desktops. The price premium for a laptop vs. other options is becoming smaller and as their capabilities expand, much easier to justify.

    To illustrate this, my in-laws house is a very old farmhouse. Their is no computer, no keyboards or monitors, no internet connection and barely any electrical system however just a few days ago I was playing lan games with my nieces and nephews there. I have 2 laptops with wireless cards built in and using them I can have a 2 computer office/gaming environment with networking that fits in one bag I can sling over my shoulder. This is awesome, not "laughable".

    I can do software development, work on presentations, compose messages all without any infrastructure at all. I can work or play in a field, on a train, in an car, on a bus, or in an airplane half way across the pacific. That's the power of the modern laptop and no web-based app can come close to that. Think about what infrastructure would be needed to make all those places have access to this service and how many companies would have to be involved and taking a cut. Bus companies, car manufacturers, airlines, satellite internet providers, cellular data networks, not to mention farmers with fields. The massive effort it would take to even come close to the capabilities of a laptop is mind-boggling.

    There will always be a place for web-based applications and a place for non-web based applications. This concept will probably be appropriate for some content creation and collaboration purposes but I think it's utility is small and the idea of carrying a laptop won't be laughable any decade soon.
  • by chill ( 34294 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @12:20PM (#9643481) Journal
    Looking at all the posts about Sun Rays, VNC over SSH, remote X, and "what if someone hijacks your session", I am absolutely amazed at how many people here seem to completely misunderstand this concept.

    1. Sun's Sun Ray is a glorified terminal. All processing takes place on the server, and the resources of the terminal itself are almost non-existant. From Sun's website "Compact, fanless plug-and-work device that processes input and output and manages communication with the shared Sun Ray server." These might be nice if the price stated about $99, not $359. And if I could run the server end on a Linux box (cluster), not some ungodly expensive Solaris behemoth. [Okat, the SunFire v210 isn't expensive, but who the hell wants a 1 GHz UltraSpark IIIi cu to run stuff like this?]

    2. VNC over SSH/Remote X. Same issues as the Sun Ray -- not using local resources. You're running everything on a remote server. NOT what the article is describing at all.

    3. Hijacking a session, security, etc. Yes, a concern, but it is a totally separate issue. How about keeping a super check, super small USB key with you that has a personal certificate. Then, encrypt all communication between your location and the main servers using that? There are plenty of solutions to this problem.

    What this article is talking about using local resources (CPU, sound, 3D acceleration, etc.) to do the task but combine it with a distributed file system. Use the "local" hard drive as a file system CACHE, to speed things up.

    Use the "local" CPU and RAM to run programs, not some server on the other side of the world. This way you can run DISCONNECTED or not consume mega networking resources.

    Think "IMAP in disconnected mode" or "web browsing while offline".

    Sun (and Oracle, IIRC) both eschew this "three tier" client server system in favor of true terminal server sessions. However, terminal sessions, including things like VNC, are too limited when it comes to tasks like 3D display.

    By combining the best of terminals (state saved computing) with the power and responsiveness of local resources (think "desktop PC"), they have a lot of potential.

    They also have some major hurdles to overcome. Complete hardware abstraction is one. Differences in hardware capabilities, etc. are not trivial problems. (Go from 1280x1024 w/5.1 surround to a 800x600 screen w/o speakers and see how it handles it.)

  • by Brandybuck ( 704397 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @02:38PM (#9645184) Homepage Journal
    ...a project that may one day let your work jump from computer to computer without interruption...

    Before this can happen we need several prerequisites. The first is standard, open and ubiquitous file formats. If I have a document then it needs to be editable and viewable on every system I happen to use.

    But that's not good enough! Let's say I have an OpenOffice sxw document. While it is an open format, it is not a ubiquitous standard. I cannot be assured that OpenOffice will be installed on any given system.

    But wait, there's more! A standard format means that more than one application can use the file, but it still means the possibility of multiple applications. Those applications are going to be different from each other (duh!) just like a Ford Taurus is different from a Toyota Prius. The interfaces are going to be different, causing considerable annoyance. And there's not much you can do to change it. Even the Ford Taurus and Toyotal Prius have different interfaces. They do! Ever borrow a friends car, have it start raining, and then have to fumble around trying to find the windshield wipers? Even worse, it might be a stick shift and you're used to manual! Software is many magnitudes more complex than automobiles, so why should we expect the interfaces to be simpler?

    There are solutions to these problems, of course. But those solutions will have problems of their own. My point is that this vision of the future is just that, a vision. It might never come to pass despite having the technology to bring it about. We have the technology for personal helicopters, yet where are they?

    I think that this vision points to a possibility, but in reality we're going to get something different. No one knows if it's going to be slightly different or greatly different, only that it will be different.
  • FirstClass! (Score:3, Informative)

    by FlyingOrca ( 747207 ) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @02:41PM (#9645244) Journal
    This is the idea behind FirstClass [] (from the artist formerly known as Softarc, then Centrinity, now the FirstClass division of OpenText). Longtime Mac users, Scandinavians, or alumni of certain universities may recognize what I'm talking about.

    FirstClass is a multiplatform client-server setup that incorporates intra- and internet servers (WWW, email, etc.), groupware (conferencing, calendaring, shared resources, file and contact management, etc.), instant messaging, and the best unified messaging I've ever seen. It's like a more capable version of MS or Novell groupware, plus unified messaging, but way more manageable and scalable (think 100 000 users on an NT4 box administered by one part-time administrator, just for one example).

    Why it's not better known is quite beyond me. Don't take my word for it, though; download the free trial and check it out for yourself. It's not time-limited or anything, it's not crippleware - it's a full-function server. The only limitation is licenses (you get five user licenses, any more have to be purchased).

    And no, I don't work for them. I don't even stand to gain financially from increased business. I just think, based on what I've seen, that it's a great product. Cheers!

FORTUNE'S FUN FACTS TO KNOW AND TELL: A giant panda bear is really a member of the racoon family.