Java, Network Computers and Network PCs, Implications for library systems

Management of PC has been a problem for librarians since they were first deployed to library staff and users. Compared to the dumb terminal the additional functionality has been an expensive benefit – and in many cases, a totally under used one. The Pentium PC on an issue desk is probably not performing to its full capabilities!

The NC gives the librarians and the system designer the opportunity for system simplification and lower cost. In general they are most appropriate where there is:

  • Limited range of programs to be run
  • Multi-use of workstations by staff
  • Remote users – e.g. a branch situation
  • Remote data – e.g. access to a large central database not local PC type files.
  • Paramount security issues
  • Dumb terminal access

Many of these characteristics apply in libraries – a circulation desk terminal for instance runs a limited number of programs that access remote centralised data often from a remote branch. OPAC terminals require security from “fiddling” and many library systems still require access to legacy systems with dumb terminal emulation – so NCs fit these tasks very well.

Cataloguers and acquisitions staff on the other hand may need more local data e.g. Dewey on CD-ROM, Z39.50 clients, secure local spreadsheets etc. and may be better off with Standard PCs or NetPcs.

Librarians should try to match the needs of their computer users – many and varied as they are – with the appropriate technology – or at least be aware of technologies that may be otherwise forced upon them – and remember that old PCs may be able to be re-used as Windows Terminals.

Suppliers face an interesting time as ever. By taking a “Java Centric” route that allows NCs to be used widely, they can reduce the support and update distribution costs for their products. But they do not want to be faced with re-developing in Java. Already Java programming tools are making re-development less of an issue – for example C++ programs can now be compiled to a “Java Virtual Machine” and thus run on an NC. But there are plenty of other considerations that will be particular to each system and supplier’s legacy. Suppliers have already declared that they will be developing various Java components – the new INNOPAC project Millenium will have Java through all modules . BLCMP have released Talis JV a Java applet – a thin client – that can be downloaded to any PC browser to run the system.

The Costs

NCs and NetPCs are claimed to bring in about 30% savings in management costs – NCs being generally potentially the more efficient. NCs will probably be cheaper to acquire than the lowest cost NetPC. If the NC concept take off as a consumer product then the costs will go down rapidly.

For detailed costs of Winframe and other NC enabling software, visit the Getech web site. Getech are hardware and software distributors to educational institutions.



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