Fractional Horsepower HTTP Servers
Sunday, September 14, 1997 by Dave Winer.
Steve Jobs comes up with great marketing slogans.
Back in the heyday of the Apple II, he touted personal computers as the equivalent of fractional-horsepower motors. In the industrial age you had big motors to power steamships and railroads, and small motors to drive lawnmowers and to accurately position antennas. Jobs reasoned that if it made sense to scale motors down, it would also make sense to scale down computers.
Short term, it was a great idea. Of course personal computers boomed, but over time they became much more powerful than the factory-sized computers they replaced. The computer on my desktop today is vastly more powerful than the mainframe computer I learned to program on in the 1970s.
So computers got small and then got big.
The same thing can happen with web servers.
Last week I bought a really cheap scanner. I can't get the damned thing to work. It plugs into the SCSI chain on my computer, but it's very picky -- it has to be the first one. After rearranging things I finally got the computer to recognize the scanner and all my older devices.
That was just the beginning. I needed to install several layers of software, and I have no idea what they all do, or how to use them. I poked and poked, got the scanner to turn on, but after several hours of fussing with it, I still haven't gotten any GIFs on my desktop.
Then it hit me that scanners could be much simpler if you made them just a little more complex.
I'd like to buy a scanner that has a standard Ethernet jack on its back, just like the one that plugs into the Ethernet hub in my office. I'd plug this new scanner into the wall, for power, and then plug it into my hub for connections. Run a bit of software (off a floppy please!) that allows me to set the TCP address for the scanner from a Mac or a Wintel box.
Put a piece of paper into the scanner. Press a button on the machine to scan the paper. Open up my web browser on my desktop machine. Open the home page of the scanner. A list of GIFs appears, in reverse chronologic order. Click on the top one. A GIF appears in my web browser. Do a save-as, or drag-drop to get it into Photoshop.
To pull this off you'd just need to add more memory to the scanner and replace the SCSI interface with TCP. When it needs room to store a new GIF, it would reclaim space from the least recently used picture.
It would be the perfect interface for impatient hardware klutzes like me who can't figure out how to use all that software. Build on the becoming-ubiquitous skill of web browser usage. The power of standards.
So here's a free idea. Everything that produces output should be available in HTTP server form. It would free up our over-burdened desktop machines. It would make things easier. Web servers in every device. It's a big growth business.
PS: A little bird whispered in my ear: In addition to John Warnock and Bill Gates, Steve Jobs will also keynote the Seybold conference in SF later this month. Boy kills boy? Sparks should fly! I'll be there for sure.