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NetPCs: They're Coming

-- by Joseph C. Panettieri

You can call NetPCs a lot of things-Lite PCs, Cheap Iron and so on-but don't call them vaporware. After months of seemingly empty talk from Microsoft and Intel, PC vendors are set to deliver products that fall under the NetPC specification. While many power users loathe the very idea of a NetPC, one could find its way onto your business desktop as early as this year.

Unlike traditional PCs, NetPCs have a sealed case design and can't easily be upgraded. Designed primarily for task-oriented users such as bank tellers, retail store employees and data-entry clerks, the machines typically lack a floppy disk drive, CD-ROM drive and hardware expansion slots. What they do have is support for extensive remote administration features. You can, for instance, lock down a NetPC desktop using Microsoft's Zero Administration Kit for Windows NT (see related story)

PC players

Every major PC player plans to ship NetPCs before year's end. Dell has already demonstrated two prototypes, and Compaq was among the first to actually announce a NetPC product. The Compaq Deskpro 4000N comes with a 1.6GB EIDE hard drive, one PCI slot, 32MB of synchronous DRAM, a 10/100 Ethernet card, integrated ROM boot for remote system setup, remote wakeup and remote shutdown, and NT Workstation 4.0. It should cost about $1,000.

The rash of announcements is a marked change from a few short months ago, when observers dismissed NetPCs as Microsoft's vague alternative to the diskless network computers (NCs) evangelized by Oracle and Sun Microsystems.

But critics say, whatever their advantages, NCs don't protect your investment in Windows software and Intel hardware.

The safer approach is to "evolve with Intel and Microsoft technology, [which is] where the next breakthrough is likely to come," said Luis Machuca, an executive VP at Packard Bell NEC. For now, that breakthrough is the Wintel-based NetPC.

Windows Magazine, September 1997, page 55.

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