NetSchools Commentary




The NetSchools experience was an interesting one, and it's hard to see where it went wrong. The market is definitely there, the product worked, and we had an experienced sales team. The Company's Chief Technology Officer, Richard Milewski, believes the problem may have been that the Company was trying to sell something it didn't really have. In this case, we let our customers believe we were providing a full function Windows platform, when in fact what we had was a very high end appliance. It ran a subset of Windows 95, and had the capability to do word processing, spreadsheets, and very limited presentation graphics, but it was not a general purpose Windows platform. The most significant shortcoming was the lack of extensibility in the user environment. Adding new programs was a factory job, not something that students, teachers of even site administrators could do. This was intentional, and viewed internally as a 'feature' that provided protection against accidental or intentional contamination of the system with games, pornography or viruses.

There was also the problem of limited ability to upgrade the laptop. The design was proprietary and based on a reasonable system architecture for the time. But time gets away from you... as the system came into widespread use, it was also becoming obsolete as far as speed and processing power were concerned.

That's also about the time we began experiencing a different sort of problem, this one entirely internal. NetSchools was simply not prepared for the cost of supporting a hardware product.

The laptop was designed to be as inexpensive as possible, given the stringent requirements of a 4 foot drop onto concrete, etc. But things do fail, and if you build 20,000 copies you must expect to see these failures become a major cost center. I could spend a lot of bandwidth explaining why this occurred and how it could have been avoided, but I'd probably be violating one or more codicils of my employment agreement with NetSchools, later transferred to Plato. If you want more, you'll have to ply me with a flagon of beer and a quiet place to talk.


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