I’ve always been jealous of people who regularly experience vivid, colorful dreams. I dream rarely (or rarely remember, which amounts to the same thing). When I do, it’s usually when I’m managing a project on a tight schedule. Then I dream, in artistic black-and-white, that I’ve accidentally killed someone and I’m desperately trying to hide the body.

Last night was different. I dreamed King Arthur traveled forward in time to visit. “Come on in!” I said excitedly.

He had a nasty cut on his arm, red and inflamed. “Yes,” he said, “it hurts me mightily. If you would be kind enough, raise a poker to red heat in your hearth. I must cauterize the wound or risk losing my arm.”

After verifying that he’d brought some of the royal treasury with him, we went to my doctor who cleaned the wound and gave him an antibiotic.

“Now what would you like to see?” I asked.

He asked my profession, so I showed him how I write this column for InfoWorld. While I waited for my laptop to boot up I explained about computers, how badly Microsoft had designed Windows/95, how Novell was throwing away its awesome advantages in market dominance and technology, and then stopped as his attention wandered.

He did find my computer fascinating. I did my best to explain what it could be used for, and did some research on the World Wide Web. I apologized for the slow response time of some of the sites we visited, but he seemed impressed nonetheless.

I decided to take King Arthur to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. As I spoke to my travel agent, the king looked at me in wonderment. “You spoke to that device as you would to a person!” he exclaimed.

So I explained about telephones, and deregulation, and what a pain in the neck it is to negotiate fair contracts with long-distance carriers, and how hard it is to audit telephone bills when you manage a complex network. I saw his eyes glazing, so I stopped.

Then we drove to the airport. Unfortunately, we ran into rush hour traffic. I complained about the poor highway design, thinking King Arthur must have also experienced poor roads in his day. He seemed uninterested, though, so I popped a CD into the car’s player – Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto – to pass the time. The king’s eyes closed as if he’d been transported. Easy to understand with Beethoven.

Into the plane, through the museum, back to Minneapolis for steaks at Murray’s, then home to watch Babylon 5 which I’d taped. As I fast-forwarded through the commercials I apologized for the poor quality of most American television.

And it was time for the king to depart. “I would prefer to remain,” he confessed. “It is hard to return to my castle, heated only by burning wood, with nothing but my jester to amuse me most evenings.”

Enjoy your holiday season. Take a break from the architectural flaws of Windows/95, software bloat, the possible collapse of the Internet, the continuing implosion of Apple Computer, or whatever else about our modern age gets your blood boiling and reflect:

The death of an infant is a tragedy now, not a way of life. We speak to people all over the world from our homes or desks, or visit them in less than a day. Our computers, no matter how imperfect, give each of us personal power unprecedented in the history of the world.

We live in an age of science fiction and miracles. We live in a rare society, defined by our belief in progress, our dissatisfaction with how things are, and our will to make progress happen.

Even the poor among us live lives of extraordinary luxury, when compared to most of the world through most of history.

We are wealthier than ancient kings.

Every so often I think about taking the bus. I’d like to be socially responsible, reducing our country’s dependence on foreign oil imports and lowering my personal contribution to atmospheric pollution.

Regrettably, my irregular schedule discourages the practice. After 5pm, the bus runs only once an hour, and if you’ve ever stood outside in a Minnesota bus stop in January, you understand the limits of social responsibility – and of centrally-controlled, shared resources.

Yet Larry Ellison, Scott McNealy, and Lou Gerstner all want me to embrace the network computer (NC) which, bus-like, will impose unnecessary and unwanted constraints on me.

The NC concept rests on false assumptions (FAs, to use the technical term). Among them:

FA #1: The NC and Thin Client are related: Nope. “Thin client” is a software architecture. Three-tier client/server architectures partition applications into independent processes handling presentation logic, “business logic” (a catch-all for a variety of different functions) and database services. You can implement thin-client applications on PCs. Heck, you can run everything on the same desktop PC and still have a thin client. It’s software, not hardware.

By the way, do you think “thin client” would be so appealing if they’d called the alternative a “thick client” or “muscular client”? And would it still be a “fat client” if it ran QNX or Linux instead of something flabby like Windows? I doubt it. This isn’t a dialog. It’s name calling.

FA #2: The NC and Java are the same thing: Well of course not. A PC can run Java code just fine. Not only that, but you can upgrade a PC with a better just-in-time Java compiler, language revisions, bug-fixes, and other stuff like that.

FA #3: The PC has huge hidden costs: This takes more than a one-paragraph tirade. A hint: everything written on the subject is a cost analysis, not a cost/benefit analysis, not a cost comparison with alternatives, and not the only analysis that matters: a cost/benefit comparison with alternatives that provide equivalent functionality.

FA #4: Java is portable: Wait a few years. You’ll have new models of the NC with enhanced functionality. You’ll have proprietary extensions. You’ll have competing, incompatible NC architectures. Suppliers differentiate themselves from each other, because if they don’t they’re selling commodities, and commodities have razor-thin margins.

FA #5: The NC has no hidden costs: Once you buy into NCs you’ll need more bandwidth, bigger servers, and more sophisticated network, server, and applications management.

Why do you think IS installs applications on PC hard disks instead of servers now? It’s the bandwidth needed to download DLLs from servers. Download a DLL, download a Java application, what’s the difference? Java doesn’t magically shrink the size and complexity of a word processor or spreadsheet.

And since the NC is simply a paperweight when the network, server, or application crashes, you need better management of all three. Clue: who wants to sell you the servers and management software?

Here’s why the NC won’t succeed. People bought PCs specifically to gain independence from control-oriented IS organizations. The PC freed employees to do what they chose, not what IS decided they should do.

The claimed benefit of the NC is its greatest hidden cost: With it, IS morphs back into the god of software, arrogantly dictating what end-users can and can’t use. If the NC succeeds, end-users will simply re-invent the disconnected PC or independent departmental LAN, so they can do what they want, instead of what IS lets them.

Technology doesn’t only follow business requirements. Sometimes it creates business opportunities, or leads to unexpected business results.

Adoption of personal computer technology in the 1980s led inevitably to employee empowerment. Look at the arguments in favor of the NC and you’ll discover a thinly veiled attempt to disenfranchise employees again.

As is true so often when you peel the onion a bit, it’s enough to make you cry.