An Interview with Frank Brain
I recently met with Frank Brain, CTO and co-founder of SoftBrain Corporation, to discuss its latest innovations in the software field. We met at the Chalk and Cheese Pub in San Melvino-di-Burpo, and over lunch we explored the latest directions in Internet technology.
What do you think of the World Wide Web?
I think it's great. It is really the most significant innovation since the microprocessor. Bigger in fact. I mean a microprocessor is just this tiny thing. You could leave it in your pocket when you do the wash and then what impact would it have? But you couldn't do that with the Web. The Web would never fit into a washing machine, so there is no risk there at all. We even plan on launching our own Web site in the next couple of months.
You don't have a Web site yet?
We're a little behind in that area, but it's definitely something we're looking into. We have some serious plans. Once we get a server up and running, we'll be in good shape. And we want to get some of those new fancy modems that go really fast.
What is your Internet strategy then?
It's really important to integrate the Web into our business. Today you can't swing a cat without ending up on somebody's home page. So if you take that as a metaphor, let's just say we plan to take advantage of the momentum behind the, ahh, cat. So we are developing for a new market. It's what we call the Digital Web Electrical Engineer Business. Basically, it's a bunch of dweebs.
Aren't you pretty late in jumping on the Internet bandwagon?
I don't think it's that important to be first in a particular category. There are, in fact, some distinct advantages to letting the other guys create the market while we refine our plans. That way we get to see the mistakes they make, and we'll be able to make our own, fight? We're not going to try to rush something to market just because all of our customers are asking us about it. We want to make sure it's the right thing. Or at least that it sounds cool. As we like to say, "We're totally behind our customers."
What about the so-called Network Computer? Will that change things?
We've been working with a couple of the hardware vendors to develop an operating system that runs on the network computer. A lot of folks have contended that the NC is basically a PC that doesn't have local disk storage and with limited memory and that costs approximately $500. We have taken that one step further. Our NC reference model is going to be much more down to earth. We're confident we can get the manufacturing cost down to about $100.
That's pretty remarkable compared to the cost of a PC.
Yes, and because of its modular design, there are plenty of opportunities for customers to upgrade. For example, power users can add a CPU and a monitor. We're able to hook the NC up to a magnetic tape backup system that uses a new patented eight way multi-track stereo format.
Why does the cassette say "Stayin' Alive" on it?
That's a, ahh, code name. The beauty of a network computer is you can build a system that is totally reliable, error flee, and never requires maintenance. It's all built around our new NS operating environment.
What does NS mean?
No Software. If you get fight down to it, that's really the key to eliminating problems. Look at the most popular systems from the last 10 years. The more software a system had, the less reliable it was. So we are focused on putting the critical functionality directly into the hardware. And, after doing quite a bit of research into large corporations, we believe that a universal application that runs on virtually every desktop in the world can be built entirely into the hardware. Our motto is "Screen savers, they're not just for screen saving." We're building the whole NS environment around screen-saver technology and putting it in ROM. If you need to, you can download new versions from the Web. I think it's safe to say that at Rich Young, we're at the forefront of this technology. It's really all about marketing from here.
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