If the dawn of the network computer (NC) isn't upon us, at least there's some light in the sky from Sun Microsystems' announcement of its low-cost JavaStation, accompanying Netra j servers and supporting software.
Although it's the consensus of industry observers that the JavaStation won't get widespread deployment just yet, it may well be the first of a new breed of office machines that will find favor with corporate IT managers because of much lower operating costs. Sun announced that the JavaStation requires about $2,500 per year to administer and maintain, compared to the generally accepted figure of $10,000 to $12,000 for a standard PC connected to a network. For large enterprises with thousands of PCs, such a machine could eventually save millions or tens of millions per year, analysts point out.
Network-centric operation may also allow for faster development and deployment of applications as well as better security.
The JavaStation has a low initial price, starting at about $750 ($1,000 with a monitor). But it's the ease of support and administration that really draws attention. With no local disk on the machine, all its applications will reside on the server. That network-centric operation may also allow for faster development and deployment of applications as well as better security, Sun believes.
So, What Can It Do?
The JavaStation--which besides being diskless also has no slots, CD-ROM or moving parts--will operate in the new JavaOS operating system, which requires less than 3 Mbytes of RAM. HotJava Views will be the graphical user interface (GUI) and it will allow Internet and intranet access through either the HotJava or Navio Navigator browsers. The JavaStation also will be able to run mainframe applications, acting as a terminal emulator, and access Windows applications from a Windows NT server. Main memory will scale from 8 to 64 Mbytes, with 4 to 8 Mbytes of flash memory. Production models are expected to ship in December with volume shipments starting in February 1997.
Sun is not alone in its thin-client development efforts, however. Microsoft has announced preliminary specifications for its NetPC, a stripped-down Intel machine that will run a lightweight Windows OS. Although it's still vaporware, the NetPC idea may find favor with corporate IT planners who like the idea of being able to run existing PC applications on a lighter weight client. While Sun has commitments from a bevy of software developers to support the JavaStation and Netra j line, currently available applications are lacking.
Oracle and IBM are fully prepared to enter the NC war, if one ensues.
In addition, Oracle and IBM are fully prepared to enter the NC war, if one ensues. IBM is setting up a special business unit for its Network Station, a thin client that is expected to be available soon. And Oracle is developing a network computer that uses Netscape Navigator, aimed more toward home users than corporations, and also expected to be rolled out in the near future. Oracle chairman Larry Ellison has said that network computers will dominate the next generation of computing, and that Oracle can dominate the market.
Meanwhile, Sun marketers will still have to work hard to get IT managers to convert from a PC mindset and adopt an entirely new computing model for promised long-term benefits.
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