upfront: An AS/400 in Every Basement?

Remember sometime around the middle of last year when Eckhard Pfeiffer, CEO of Compaq Computer Corp., gave a keynote at some trade show or another, envisioning a world of homes with PCs and network appliances in every room, all linked to a central server chugging away in the basement?

It's not idle talk. And the technology driving this wired world of the future will likely be Java. For all the talk about Java being an alternative to Windows on the desktop, it has far broader applications than that. Already, Java is being used as the OS in embedded systems for smart phones, set-top boxes and hand-held computing devices. Soon, even your refrigerator door could be running Java, keeping track of when your milk expires or warning you that you're almost out of orange juice.

So in the "smart home" of the future, you'll have all these Java devices running, networked together. What's your server backbone? I'm sure Pfeiffer has his own vision, but as we begin the last year of the 20th century, I thought I'd make a pitch for the home version of the AS/400.

I know, that's ridiculous, it's a business machine. So what? Technology evolves. Java may make a great computer operating system some day, but many think its true promise lies in embedded systems. Netscape started as a Web browser company nearly five years ago. After losing a fight it couldn't win against Microsoft, it shifted its focus to e-commerce application server software and Web portals. Those businesses were what made Netscape such an inviting takeover target for America Online a couple of months ago (AOL will still use Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser for the Web). Microsoft made its name -- and most of its first billion -- in desktop operating systems. Now it's got its hands in just about everything.

So why can't the AS/400 find its way to the home? Nothing runs Java better. And nothing's more reliable. When your PC server crashes, taking your home's electrical system down with it, and you've got to grab a flashlight, venture down to your basement and reboot, you'll be wishing you had an AS/400 down there.

Share your vision of the AS/400-based "smart home" with News Editor Dennis Callaghan at Callaghadv@midrangesystems.com.