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-- by John D. Ruley
If network computers (NCs) start hitting it big, they'll obviously have to do battle with personal computers. But who'd have thought they'd be tackling handheld PCs?
In a surprise move, some prominent NC backers, such as Sun Microsystems, IBM, Oracle, Netscape and Lotus, recently announced extensions to the NC-1 reference specification that appear to be aimed directly at the market Microsoft is targeting with Windows CE, its handheld OS. The new Mobile-NC specification extends the Java-based, network-centric NC-1 with support for data replication, security, low-bandwidth operation and power management. Additional features include persistent storage, PPP support, dynamic/mobile IP, DHCP, open security and videoconferencing H.323/324 standards. Options on some devices may include MPEG-4, USB, IRDA, IEEE-1394 and a selection of pointing devices. A minimum screen resolution of 320x240 (and minimum 2 bits per pixel) is specified.
Why should Microsoft be interested? Here's one reason: consumers. The new spec has more than just NC vendor support. Other sponsors include Matsushita, NEC, Fujitsu, Hitachi, Nokia and Toshba. (Two of those companies also make Windows CE units.)
John Browne, group product manager for Windows CE, confirmed that version 2.0, due this fall, will support Java. Still, whether CE-based devices will have the necessary Java Virtual Machine and class libraries built in will be "up to the vendor." In other words, CE-based devices with built-in Java support could potentially meet the requirements of the Mobile-NC specification.
Of course, the first functioning Mobile-NC units probably won't be out for another year, and a broad range of products may take two years to arrive. By that time, Windows CE may be in its 3.0 incarnation.