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Compaq beefs up thin-client offerings

Compaq, a late entrant into the so-called thin-client market, announces two new systems, including one that runs the Linux operating system.

Compaq Computer today announced two new so-called thin-client computers, one running the upstart Linux operating system.

Compaq is a late entrant into the thin-client market, trailing behind other major PC competitors, such as Hewlett-Packard and IBM. A thin-client system is essentially a stripped-down PC that runs software programs off a powerful, back-end server instead of the unit on the desk.

But the Houston-based PC maker, following the response to its Aero 8000 mobile thin client, is betting customers want simpler devices that are easier to manage.

Thin clients appeal to companies running disparate computing environments, such as mainframes, Unix systems, and Windows NT servers, or those with employees doing simple repetitive tasks such as customer data entry.

Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison a few years ago led the rally around thin clients as the next wave of computing. But performance problems with some thin-client operating systems and the popularity of sub-$1,000 PCs stalled momentum behind the devices.

Despite the recent decision by IBM and Sun to pull the plug on JavaOS, large corporations are showing increased interest in thin clients. Other thin-client operating systems include Citrix WinFrame, Linux, and Windows CE.

The worldwide thin-client market grew 83 percent during the first half of 1999 from a year earlier, according to International Data Corporation.

Market leaders posted strong growth, with Wyse shipping 200 percent more systems than a year earlier and HP 125 percent more, according to IDC. Wyse, IBM, and NCD/Tektronix dominate the market, with combined unit share of 78 percent and 79 percent share for revenue.

Compaq clearly would like a piece of that market, and it hopes to gain ground with its late entrants.

Compaq's new thin clients, the T1000 and T1500, will be available later this month and next month, respectively. Both systems come with integrated 10/100 networking, two serial and two USB connections, a parallel port, PC Card slot, and 16-bit stereo output. The units also support display resolution of up to 1280 x 1024 resolution.

The T1000, which will be available for $649, supports Windows CE and the T1500 Linux, a derivative of Unix. Compaq has not yet set a price for the T1500.

HP in August introduced new thin clients. Like HP, Compaq is using a dual Windows CE and Linux approach. IBM, one of the first manufacturers backing thin clients with products, uses technology licensed from Citrix.

Though Compaq is committed to Linux, it is betting the bank on Windows CE. The company in April introduced the Aero 8000, a Windows CE device with a keyboard, competing against IBM's ThinkPad 240.

"Users don't need any local functionality on the client," said Bill Ebanks, Compaq's director of business development and planning for the Displays & Peripherals division. "What they need is access to Windows applications or the Windows interface. WinCE has delivered that, and for very structured environments it's the best solution."

Microsoft last week showcased Windows-Based Terminal Edition, a thin-client offering with more robust features than Windows CE. Microsoft touted forthcoming Compaq systems based on the operating system, but the PC manufacturer has no immediate product plans, said Compaq executives.

For the short term, anyway, Compaq will use Windows CE for its thin clients.