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-- by Diganta Majumder
For most of last year, Microsoft bad-mouthed the network computer concept. In October, it announced one of its own.
Well, not exactly. What Microsoft and its partner, Intel, have in mind is neither network computer nor personal computer, but a networked personal computer-a NetPC. Microsoft is touting this as a new kind of PC aimed at task-oriented users who don't want or need a full-fledged PC. Microsoft and Intel plan to have the NetPC reference initiative out by the end of 1996.
The goal is simple enough: to create a lower-cost box featuring Intel architecture and the Windows operating system. The overall benefit should also include a hardware platform that remains stable for several years and a lower initial purchase price than conventional PCs. The ability to build on existing training, development and capital investments in Windows and Windows applications is also a powerful lure.
The NetPC will include a hard drive and other PC-standard components-a processor, memory, audio and video. It will also have an integrated network adapter or modem (in a locked case to limit user modification). The product seems targeted at large sites where it would constitute a viable PC alternative.
In contrast, other products set to flood the market, particularly from staunch network computer advocates Sun Microsystems and Oracle, consist mostly of a monitor, a keyboard and a "thin client," with virtually all functionality residing on the host. True to form, Microsoft made its announcement the very week that Sun and Oracle introduced their offerings.
At press time, no one was willing to make any bets on the cost. All the network computers will probably cost more than the $500 once bandied about, but less than a full-fledged PC. Microsoft acknowledges that the NetPC will fetch more than $500 too, but will feature a lower total cost of ownership (which includes training, maintenance, upgrades and so forth). Besides, the NetPC lets you build on what you've got; with the other machines, you may need a new server and new server and client software.
Given the clout of the companies involved, it's no surprise brand-name OEMs have already signed on. Compaq, Dell, Digital, Gateway 2000, HP, Packard Bell, NEC and Texas Instruments have pledged to support the NetPC.
Copyright © 1997 CMP Media Inc.