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A Brief History of Remote Display
Part II - Microsoft: selling licenses

Prior to the advent of personal computing, work was done on large, central computers, and users accessed these machines using terminal that had little if any processing power; they just acted as simple consoles to display the real work being done on a remote mainframe. Everything from business systems to point of sale registers to airline ticketing systems used terminals. It was in Microsoft's interest to replace terminals (no profit) with PCs (profit!).

In the 80's, Microsoft lead the PC industry in a campaign to deliver everything as a PC "client/server" solution. Rather than installing a large mainframe or minicomputer and setting up terminals, client/server meant that companies would instead give every user their own "microcomputer" with enough power to perform their work locally.

Other microcomputers could be set up to act as servers to these network clients, creating a client/server relationship that shared data between hosts like the previous generation of mainframes and terminals. Unlike terminals, these new "fat clients" provided much more computing power, local storage and functionality on the client end.
photo Client/server was considered a more scalable solution, since no initial minicomputer purchase was required; instead, more PCs were bought as needed, both on the client and server side. Client PCs could also act like terminals to access existing mini and mainframe computers. The rapid increase in desktop PC computing power meant regular new sales of new PCs; and with all those PCs, Microsoft was selling the requisite DOS (and later Windows) licenses.

One drawback to replacing terminals with client/server PCs was that companies now had to maintain lots of distributed processing. Rather than one big computer with lots of connected terminal appliances, there were now lots of individual computers to manage, upgrade, and troubleshoot.

It is also far harder to secure data traveling between networks of clients and servers than only point to point between terminals and one central computer.

In practice, client/server often replaced professionally managed, secure and stable mainframe systems with poorly performing, badly implemented, insecure systems set up by consultants with only a rudimentary knowledge of Microsoft's marketing claims.

Consultants reset the world's expectations of what a computer could do by replacing rock solid business machines with frequently crashing PCs that struggled to emulate the functionality of a minicomputer database using, for example, Microsoft Access.

Imagine the state handing the contract to complete a highway interchange to a team of aspiring ditch diggers with little experience beyond building sandcastles on the beach.

Selling even more licenses: Terminal Server


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