Sun Microsystems, known for making ultra-expensive workstations and servers that run on the most complicated operating system ever made, unveiled on Wednesday a desktop computer that the company says is no more complicated than a telephone. Dubbed the Sun Ray 1, this new system is designed to provide all of the functionality of a PC in a device that doesn't require the constant upgrades of a PC. Instead, the complex bits are hidden on a backend server, making the Sun Ray a simple terminal "window" to the data that comes over the wire.

In other words, it’s a network computer.

"The same way a 40-year-old rotary \[phone\] handset still works today, these things will still work in 10 years," said J. Duane Northcutt, a lead engineer on the Sun Ray project, perhaps forgetting the disdain with which people regard rotary phones.

Sun, Oracle, and other companies have used various strategies and product announcements to push a warmed-over version of the computing model we all did away with in the 1970s, and the Sun Ray 1 doesn't appear to offer anything new to the equation. The reality today, of course, is that hardware is cheap, so there's precious little reason for a consumer to get excited about such a device. Corporations, on the other hand, might be enticed by this approach, though many of them are already customers of Sun.

"We all learned a lot" from the failure of the NC, said Sun President Ed Zander. "This time we're not saying we're going to replace every PC everywhere."

The Sun Ray will sell for $499 without a monitor and the device is utterly useless without a fast network connection and a powerful (and expensive) Sun server on the backend. For more information, please visit the Sun Ray Web site