Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board

plan9, diskless workstations, then web apps.?

I'm interested in what people have to say about parallels between present www technologies and especially the desire to run rich-client-equivalent applications on browsers and the concerns of the largely bygone era of diskless workstations.

X terminals and diskless workstations running UNIX needed fast networks, nice displays, and enough RAM to run everything.  A lot of the concerns in building up installations with lots of such diskless clients would seem to have echoes in modern browser development... only now instead of a "diskless client" we have a browser only allowed to use certain resources in certain manners.

Plan9 was an especially interesting attempt to get high performance diskless workstations with servers actually running the apps and providiing storage to work out right... so does anyone know the present and remember the past well enough to complete or confound this analogy?

Thomas E. Kammeyer
Wednesday, June 23, 2004

The problem with X is that is is a too thin (or as JWZ says it is fat everywhere).  There is no application logic on the client  at all which requires A LOT of message passing between the client and server.  When I say client I mean the machine that the user interacts with which is typically called an X Server for various reasons.  It makes it impossible to scale up over non-reliable links like the internet. 

That's what Gosling wanted to address with NeWS which had client side scripting via display PostScript.  The Java stations where another (poor) attempt to at a modern version of the X Terminal where applications where written in Java. 

I think the web browser is a good analogy to the old X Terminals, and could finally achieve their goal.  There is much more rendering logic in the browser than X, and java script provides the client side scripting that PostScript provided NeWS. 

I used to think that X's network features where the coolest thing ever.  Now I think it is its biggest weakness.  I'd love a linux client that had a stripped down frame buffer w /out all of X's network features which I never use anyway.  I think there was an attempt to do something like this a few years ago, but it never took off. 

christopher baus (
Wednesday, June 23, 2004

I don't think there will be serious use of Plan 9/Inferno until augmented reality hits us hard, and even then it probably won't happen in the form of using the actual code base coming from Bell Labs. These distributed/virtual resources oses will inspire the os designers of tomorrow trying to tackle the more distributed-agent computational model in the near future.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Chris, you can kind of do that now.  There's Gtk+ for framebuffer, so if you only need to run Gtk+ apps, you can do it.  Unfortunately, lots of us use lots of apps that require that other crap in X, so we can't use this (for the same reason we can't use mini-Word-clones).  So nobody really develops for it, so nobody really uses it.

Part of me wants Fresco to succeed (which means being able to run X apps on Fresco, at least initially), but their site hasn't had an update in over a year, so I'm afraid it's dead again.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home