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Compaq to unveil Net PCs

Compaq will be the first to market with a true Net PC.

Compaq Computer (CPQ) has quietly begun shipping the first Net PC on the market and will officially announce it in the next two weeks, giving a shot in the arm to a technology that lately has taken some hits from detractors such as IBM, CNET's NEWS.COM has learned.

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

Compaq will release its Net PC, the Deskpro 4000N, before the end of the month. The 4000N will contain the Intel Pentium MMX processor running at 166 MHz and above, according to Ed Ellett, Compaq's director of desktop marketing for North America. In addition, the 4000N will feature a 1.6GB EIDE hard drive, 32MB synchronous DRAM, 1 PCI slot, and Windows NT 4.0. Estimated price is below $1,000.

The Deskpro 4000N is already shipping to distributors, Ellett added.

HP will follow in October by shipping the Net Vectra to distributors and resellers, said sources close the company. Evaluation units are already in place in some corporate locations, a source added. Pricing starts at $999.

HP's October delivery is a bit of a slip. In the spring, HP executives said the box would ship by August.

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 that 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 costs savings Net PCs were going to provide.

Moreover, IBM announced it was discontinuing its plans for a Net PC, 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 price with the NC. "We absolutely stand by it. I don't think we are going to take the extreme view IBM took," Ellett said. "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.

Independent observers say the machine has yet to catch the imagination of corporate buyers. "The manufacturers are not indicating that they are getting the customer interest," said Roger Kay, an analyst at International Data Corporation. "Not many are really showing up to the plate."

Meanwhile, computers based on the rival NC standard are due in the next few months.