Great IT ideas keeping repeating | 思想反复

Back in the late 1990s, I worked agencyside on PR for a voice-over-IP service called Deltathree, the company was US-listed but founded by some whip-smart and pretty down-to-earth Israeli guys. Israel was the home of VoIP with VocalTec having made the first VoIP desktop client (a la Skype). This was back when internet access was uncommon, most people who had it used V90 protocol dial-up modems from the likes of US Robotics and a privileged few had BT Home Highway which was a screamingly fast 128 kilobits per second service of internet access.

Broadband came along and the peer-to-peer technology that grew alongside it morphed into the technology that underpinned Skype. This time VoIP became part of the mainstream business and personal lives.

Around about the same time that I was promoting VoIP services, serious computing companies like Silicon Graphics (SGI) were building modular computers (like the Origin and Altrix ranges) that you could extend the performance and memory on by adding another brick (kind of like Lego but without the neat product design). Then along came blades which took over enterprise computing, whilst pizza boxes chained together with Beowulf or Hadoop took over a lot of heavy computational work and the brick went away.

Apple stepped into the enterprise server business with the XServe series of computers which were well-engineered and popular in distributed computing applications. However they have since discontinued building these computers, but kept up selling server software. Bob Cringely hypothesised that with the new Thunderbolt connectivity standard that Apple is supporting, the Mac Mini once it has been upgraded may become the new computing ‘brick’. The question is will the Mac Mini be the ‘Skype’ of brick-computing or would the idea go around the block once again?