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Compaq debuts first Net PC

Compaq today introduced the Compaq Deskpro 4000N, first Net PC to hit the market.

Compaq Computer (CPQ) today introduced the Compaq Deskpro 4000N, the first Net PC to hit the market, amid speculation over who will buy these new stripped-down, network-centric computers.

As previously reported by CNET's NEWS.COM, Compaq quietly began shipping the system several weeks ago.

The DeskPro 4000N, priced Compaq Deskpro 4000Nat $1,149, contains modest hardware features, including an Intel Pentium MMX processor running at 166 MHz, a 1.6GB hard drive, and 32MB of memory. The system also has one slot for accepting Perpipheral Component Interconnect (PCI) add-in circuit boards. Windows NT 4.0 is preloaded on the system.

Net PCs are meant to be PCs that rely more on server computers than typical PCs. Dozens or hundreds of Net PCs are tethered to a server which takes care of almost all major management duties such as software updates and hardware troubleshooting.

One potential market for the Deskpro 4000N will lay in businesses such as banks and airlines, whose numerous employees have limited or dedicated computing needs, the company said.

As a niche product in this realm, the Deskpro 4000N might find takers, said Bruce Stephen, an analyst at International Data Corporation. "They want to extend their reach into the enterprise [corporation] computing, and I think they feel there is a user type here."

More important, Net PCs could serve as a vehicle for managed PC software. "The big issue is getting these people onto [PC] management [software] tools," he said.

Weighing in with additional support for the Net PC will be Hewlett-Packard (HWP), which will ship its Net PC in October, sources said.

Perhaps the most discussed technology to emerge at PC Expo this past June, the Net PC has become something of an oddball technology in the four months since. At the convention, 12 manufacturers showed off Net PC prototypes or pledged to make the low-cost, sealed-case systems.

A selling point made by adherents is that Net PCs contain networking hardware and software which make them easier and cheaper to manage at large corporations.

Manufacturers, however, have been adopting the manageability software features to mainstream desktop and notebooks, obviating, for some, the need for a sealed-case Net PC. Prices on mainstream PCs have also been steadily dropping, reducing the unit-cost savings Net PCs were going to provide.

IBM announced it was discontinuing its plans for a Net PC several weeks ago, although not its plans for products based on the rival network computing standard. Network computers, stripped-down boxes with limited capabilities, have been touted as a low-cost machine that will allow easy access to the Internet and other basic functions.

Backers of the Net PC, on the other hand, say their computers will perform a much wider range of duties while staying competitively priced with the NC. "We absolutely stand by it. I don't think we are going to take the extreme view IBM took," said Ed Ellett, Compaq's director of desktop marketing for North America. "We have certain major accounts that are interested. We're shipping it. It's a solution for a problem."

Ellett added, however, that "It's not a desktop replacement," intimating that it won't be right for all customers.

Meanwhile, computers based on the rival NC standard are due in the next few months. Umax Data Systems said today that it would begin to deliver machines based on the NC reference standard in Europe by November.