Wiping the PC Slate Clean

We should be able to do a job, clear our electronic desk and be ready for the next task.

Do you remember the "magic slate" devices that you probably used as a child? A translucent sheet, attached to a black, waxy background, with a stylus that made lines by pressing the top sheet against that foundation? When you pulled up the sheet, whatever you had written or drawn disappeared. When I recently wrote about virtual-machine environments for our computers, some of the replies I received reminded me of those magic slate memories.

Readers of that column told me that I had failed to highlight two features of products such as Connectix Virtual-PC or VMware Workstation. First, the virtual machines created by these products have a fixed set of apparent hardware: An application in a VirtualPC session, for example, "sees" an Intel Triton chip set, S3 Trio SVGA card, Creative Labs PCI Soundblaster 16 and other standard devices. Readers told me that they relish the resulting independence from PC vendors constant fiddling.

The volatility of Linux is similarly tamed by LSB 1.1, a Linux Standard Base development kit released at the end of last month and available at www.freestandards.org. This combination could prove quite empowering, not to mention cost-reducing, for enterprise IT builders.

Readers also told me how much they valued the ease of installing a special software setup—for example, to provide remote access to a resource thats only used once a month—and blowing away that setup when the task was done. Thats what made me think of magic slates.

If theres one thing I miss from the days of DOS computing, its the ease of having several sets of autoexec.bat and config.sys files, with a batch file that copied a particular combination of those files to my root directory. Virtual machines restore this flexibility.

Those magic slates actually did accumulate traces of past work. You could read the previous writings in the wax. Our IT systems need not have this defect: We should be able to do a job, completely clear our electronic desk and be ready for the next task.

Tell me what systems should forget at peter_coffee@ziffdavis.com.