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Compaq looks beyond the desktop

Compaq expands its core desktop product lineup to include new efforts, such as NetPCs, network computers, portable PCs, and handheld devices.

LAS VEGAS, Nevada--Compaq (CPQ) has expanded its core desktop product lineup to include new efforts such as NetPCs, network computers (NCs), portable PCs, and handheld devices.

Mike Winkler, the head of Compaq's PC products group, bared the company's plans for network computers and laid out the future strategy for Windows CE devices in an interview with CNET at Comdex.

Compaq's core desktop products have now expanded to comprise five areas, according to Winkler: traditional PCs, NetPCs, NCs, portables, and Windows CE devices.

Compaq will deliver in 1997 a computer based on the NetPC specifications announced at the end of last month as well as a separate network computer, Winkler said.

Compaq's NetPC will essentially be an Intel-based PC optimized for the network, while the company's NC would be a "wholly different" device comparable to a dumb terminal, IBM 3270 replacement, he added.

A line of NetPCs will appear in the latter half of 1997, Winkler said. "This will be predominantly Pentium [based]. The NetPC is a full-function PC with limited expandability, a smaller form factor, and lower price. At the low end, a device without a hard disk could be below $1,000 but not as low as the [Windows CE-based] Companion" at $499.

Compaq fully supports Microsoft's Zero Administration initiative, which is expected to result in software for enhancing automation and reducing service and support costs for PCs hooked up to a network.

"This will enable a substantial reduction in end-user costs because of more central control of software. Everything is downloaded and controlled from the server. Everybody is updated in the same way every day," Winkler said, referring to the expectation that server software will go out and update all clients everyday.

On the other hand, Compaq's NC will principally "run Java applets and do 3270 emulation," he said. "This is an incremental market that is largely a replacement for dumb terminals." These would be used kiosks and for airline reservation systems.

"By the year 2000, [this] NC will be only a niche market...less than ten percent of the market," Winkler added, implying that Compaq sees more action on the NetPC side.

On the handheld PC front, Compaq's Windows CE Companion will be a critical component in the company's client strategy in the coming years, he said.

Compaq's Companion is expected to start shipping in volume next week. It sports a 480-by-240 resolution monochrome LCD screen, a pen-based Windows CE interface with a suite of Windows software applications, a PC Card slot for communications cards, a Hitachi RISC processor, and a weight of about 13 ounces.

"This is another client alternative. It's a mini-client with seamless integration capabilities [with desktop PCs]," Winkler said.

"It will be interesting when it supports a color screen. Eventually it will have a form factor that's in between today's handhelds and a notebook PC," he added.

The Companion will get slightly larger screens and larger keyboards, according to Winkler. "This is a revival of the subnotebook in a way."