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Boca set-top box runs Windows software

Boca becomes the latest company to make a play in the market for low-cost set-top boxes offering Internet access--but with an added twist.

Boca Research (BOCI) became the latest company to make a play in the market for low-cost set-top boxes offering Internet access, but with a critical added twist that its new device can run Windows applications too.

Set-top boxes typically run only very basic software such as electronic mail, but Boca's $400 device will allow access to business programs such as Microsoft Office.

Boca is seeking to widen the set-top box's appeal to the business market by using technology from Citrix. Citrix's technology also forms the basis of upcoming Windows "dumb" terminal computer software from Microsoft, which allows a user to access a more powerful server computer to run software. (See related story)

By distributing its BocaVision device through VARs (value-added resellers), Internet service providers, and systems integrators, the company is taking a different route than Philips or Sony, who sell the WebTV Internet set-top box to consumers through retail outlets. The device is expected to cost under $400, Boca said.

The BocaVision set-top box is a part of the company's plan to transform itself into a "data communications company," but Boca is unlikely to make much of an impact in the consumer market, where its set-top boxes were originally targeted.

By using the Citrix software, users of Boca's set-top box can access applications such as Microsoft Office or Lotus Notes, which reside on a central server computer. This differs from a PC in that most of the data processing is done by the server computer--which could result in slow performance when used over a dial-up connection.

But if recent surveys are an accurate indication, the transformation may be a beneficial one. While an estimated 300,000 WebTV units have been sold over the last year and a half, Zona Research estimates the market for "thin clients" (including Windows-based terminals) will grow to about 650,000 units in 1998 alone.

Boca said the devices are currently shipping.

Investors seemed to find the idea of using Citrix technology in a set-top box appealing. Boca's stock finished at 6 3/16 today, a 37.5 percent increase over the previous day's closing price.