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Bob Cringely wrote an interesting article about the need for internet appliances such as 3Com’s Audrey to provide internet access for the slow adopters and laggards. internet appliance were orginally muted as an idea by Larry Ellison of Oracle as part of his network computing vision. They failed because of the topsy turvy economics that have driven PC growth, though one could argue that the iMac incorporate the spirit if not the technical specification of an internet appliance. Bob’s discussion reminded me of the small time I worked on 3Com.
I got put on the Palm pan European PR account when the company had been spun out from 3Com and Audrey was on the horizon, my predecessor worked on Palm as part of the 3Com portfolio. Part of the reasons discussed internally for this was that Audrey had the potential to eat Palm’s lunch. Audrey was based on a more modern operating system. Even by 2000, Palm realised that its current operating system was in need of a replacement.
Unlike Audrey, It couldn’t multitask and involved kludged layers of abstraction to work. When it worked it was brilliant. But it wasn’t ready for a connected online future and the greater demands that we will put on mobile computing devices. The upper layers of the operating system providing the user experience and handwriting were the real genius in the PalmOS.
The lower levels were off the peg software from the mid-1990s. Back then we didn’t even have multi-tasking in Macs and most installed versions of Windows. Indeed Palm went on to buy Be Systems, who provided the software and expertise behind Sony’s eVilla internet appliance.
Now PalmOne has different things to worry about, like how to stop Microsoft’s kamikaze antics in the handheld and mobile space. It is interesting that PalmSource has had to go and purchase a mobile Linux company due to client demand. More content similar to Audrey here.
Revisiting this post in 2022 on the Audrey 3Com net appliances reminded of how Robert X Cringely in his book Accidental Empires talked about innovation in terms of surfing waves. Picking a wave too early would mean that you wouldn’t get much of a ride, picking it too late would leave you wiped out. Audrey was a ‘too early wave’. A stable multi-tasking operating system with easy single purpose apps is the basic technical specification for the iPad that my parents use to keep in touch wit me and the the world online. Superficially Audrey resembled the appliance like computing experience of the early iMac where everything you needed was in the box, but the iPad was its true successor as a communal communications and content consumption device. If that doesn’t sound like Larry Ellison’s net computing device and the Audrey I don’t know what does.