It was a small, tastefully lit shop on the east side. The NC-terminal was strategically placed, towards the back, telephone cables barely visible.
The price tag hung, like a war medal, over the monochrome terminal and sleek, designer keyboard. “Network Computer – $500 (monitor not included).” Candles and incense burned on the podium – I could smell it from the street.
I took the sling out of my bag, making sure no one was looking. Hung it over my left shoulder, and laid my right arm to rest – I was still sore from my last visit to an I-Way store.
The clerk was tall and thin, sharp face, shiny black hair, pulled back severely into a pony tail then draped down the back. Sports coat, black denim jeans and cowhide spotted boots reminiscent of a Gateway box. Talking on the cellular, his attitude said “I know more than you do.” I hoped so.
I took a deep breadth and walked in, studying the terminal. After a few moments he hung up, and came over.
“Down with Wintel, man,” he greeted me with fervor, banging his chest with his right hand, and gesturing with his middle finger first to the west, towards Santa Clara, then Northwards towards Seattle. The “Wintel ‘tude.” Popular among the I-Way bunch. His voice was fervent but cultured, melodic like a Sunday preacher. I knew this one was good.
I nodded towards the sling, and gave the ritualistic response “The I-Way is THE way.”
“This is the finest Internet terminal made,” he said. “Straight from the far east by way of Singapore. 100% pure — no Intel, no Microsoft.”
“Cool,” I responded. I’m looking for a ‘pure’ terminal. Need ten, for my new office setup. Just a couple of questions.”
“Fire away, dude,” he said, sniffing, a bit impatient.
“Here’s the deal,” I started. “I’ve got a small business, nothing special, we sell used furniture. Few sales reps, couple of delivery men, my forewomen who runs the shop. Accounting and administration, that’s it. Need 10 terminals, don’t want no LAN, want to hook up via the Internet.”
“The I-Way is THE Way,” he agreed. “Down with Wintel,” he continued, banging his chest once again.
“What I need,” I continued, “are applications that run together. Today I do projections in 1-2-3, then paste the results into Word Pro to send to the board of directors. How’s this all going to work on the net?”
“Oh, it’s beautiful, man,” he responded. “These little applets, man, they come from the ‘net. They’re application specific, man, they do just what you want. Then, best of all, they just go away — so you don’t need to storage, man, it’s all on the net.”
“Cool,” I said, “but how do I know what I cut shows up where I paste? Who’s in charge of making sure it works?”
He looked impatient. “You don’t understand, man — it’s the new paradigm. No more bloatware, no more big applications. Nothing works with anything, it all works together! Down with Wintel, man, the world is changing, don’t you read Businessweek? It’s the start of a new beginning.”
“I hear what you’re saying,” I answered. “But I’ve been there before. I got my first local area network back in 1986, the first Year of the LAN. I bought diskless workstations, and my employees almost rebelled. At least they were expandable — pretty soon they all had disks, multiple drives — they pretty much all looked like file servers.”
“That was a local area network,” he scoffed, “not the ‘net. The ‘net is huge, it’s the next big thing, it’s Netscape worth 8 billion dollars, it’s the repeal of Moore’s Law. Down with Wintel, man,” he said, again banging his chest and gesturing westward.
“I know, man, and I believe. But I need accounting software compatible with QuickBooks from Intuit, that can read last year’s financials and give me year by year comparisons.”
“Oh, man,” he said. It’s a perfect Java app, Sun is king, there’ll be six to chose from by the time you install the program.”
“I know, I know,” I responded, “Java will run on any computer from Osborne to mainframe, in small, efficient code segments that load and then go away. It’s truly beautiful, a new paradigm. But who’s in charge of making it print in color on my HP ScanJet printer, with those nice little pie charts that impress the board? And who do I call when one Java app doesn’t work with another?”
He took a step backward and his upper lip started to curl. “I can’t believe I’m hearing this, man, are you a ‘net doubter?” His voice rose slightly, and his eyes got briefly wider, then narrowed into slits. I was losing credibility. “Don’t you read Wired, man?” he continued. ” Netscape rules, and Gates will be poor as a pauper by the new millennium.”
By this time the store was getting crowded. While there were button-downed yuppies like myself, looking at the NC with skepticism, most dressed like 60’s style hippies, with bell bottomed jeans, tie died shirts and platform shoes. They approached the NC slowly, with reserve and reverence.
I heard one ask the store manager “we’re looking for an “NC,” man, a network computer, to turn-on, tune-in and drop out. Can’t believe we missed Leary’s death, right there live on the net.”
“Yeah,” said his girlfriend. “We bought Windows95 ’cause of those cool ads on TV with Mick and Ron and Charley, and we’re tired of waiting for it to change our lives.”
I shook my head at the other great hypefest of 1995-6. But I knew my time was running out, so I laid it on the line. “OK, dude, I’m not sold on this NC thing. Do you have anything else?”
He quickly put his finger to his lips with a “ssshhh” and motioned me down the hallway to a back room, out of sight of the public.
“Shouldn’t do this man,” he said, shaking his head as we walked toward the door. He glanced back towards the showroom furtively then opened the door and ushered me in. Instantly his countenance changed.
“OK!,” he boomed, businesslike and efficient, right out of a Tom Hopkins sales tape. “What we have here is a 10 station 100 Mbit ethernet NT network running BrandX Pentium 90 systems as workstations and a Brand Y dual Pentium system as the server. The workstations all have 16 MB of RAM, 1 GB hard drives, 6X CD-ROM drives, ethernet NICs and 15″ monitors. They come with Windows95 and Lotus SmartSuite. Each will cost you $995.”
The server has 32 MB of RAM and 4 GB of drive space with NT installed. It’s a Pentium 55C, optimized for 32-bit applications. Heck, you can even run your intranet from the same server. It’ll cost you $5,000 but we’ll throw in QuickBooks and guarantee that it’ll print on your HP ScanJet.”
Figure: checking caption
“Only $500 more and I get real computers?” I asked.
“So – does this work for you?,” he asked, ignoring my question and closing like a winner.
“Looks great to me,” I responded. “Where do I sign?”
We completed the paperwork and he handed me his card.
His title was Network Computer, Corporate specialist.
“Hey man,” he said. “You don’t mind skipping out the side door, do you? You know, don’t want to mess with the karma of the place.”
I obliged, then walked to the front of the store towards my car. I saw him enter the show room, winking and smiling broadly towards the store manager, giving him a discrete ‘thumbs up.’ A woman in a blue business suit, with her right arm in a sling, had just entered the store. He quickly approached, and I saw him mouth “”Down with Wintel, man,” and then give the “Wintel ‘tude.”
I saw her smile painfully, and mouth “The I-way is the way.”