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Microsoft, Citrix beta terminal server

The march of Windows toward new desktop market segments continues as the two release final beta versions for thin-client server software.

Windows continues its march toward new desktop markets.

As reported yesterday, Microsoft (MSFT) and Citrix Systems (CTXS) announced the release of final beta versions for software that allows multiple types of client devices to use applications residing on a server machine.

The forthcoming release of Microsoft's Windows Terminal Server (WTS), due by the end of June, and Citrix's technology, dubbed "pICAsso," may signal a growing opportunity for Windows server-based application hosting to take whatever wind is left out of the sails of network computer proponents.

The WTS software, previously code-named Hydra, feeds into Microsoft's strategy to propagate its Windows NT server operating system in as many corners of corporate America as possible.

Using the WTS version of NT 4.0, a company can host a variety of common desktop applications--like those found in Microsoft Office--on a server, with a client machine basically serving as a window to the program running on the back-end system. In this environment, PCs running the 32-bit Windows 95 or older 16-bit Windows 3.x operating systems can use the computing power of a server.

And it doesn't stop there. Using third-party hardware, Microsoft is going after the huge market to replace the millions of dumb terminals--sometimes known as "green screens"--that typically hang off a mainframe and perform specific tasks. These so-called? Windows-based Terminals will run a variation of Microsoft's Windows CE 2.0 operating system, modified to support keyboards and power management features. (See related story)

Citrix will fill in the rest of the picture with pICAsso, which supports server-based Windows application crunching for Windows, Unix, Apple Computer Macintosh clients, network computers, and various wireless devices. Citrix uses an internally developed protocol called ICA, or Independent Computing Architecture, to facilitate support for a variety of clients, while WTS is designed to take advantage of Windows desktops.

The pICAsso technology requires the installation of WTS. Citrix executives believe that they can offer enough incentive beyond client support for Windows to justify sales to customers. The firm will detail a strategy to better manage Windows desktops, as well as other clients, when addressing the need for pICAsso to customers, according to David Manks, senior product manager for Citrix.

Executives also claim customers will need pICAsso to support centralized application hosting across several systems. "If I want to scale across multiple servers, pICAsso is a requirement for that," Manks said.

Microsoft executives also divulged plans to offer WTS on a per-seat licensing basis that will compare to the price users pay to run Windows 95 or NT Workstation on their desktop. Echoing a policy recently implemented for Office, Microsoft will likely not offer a concurrent licensing option, according to John Frederiksen, Microsoft group product manager for server OS marketing.

Final pricing will be released when the product ships.

A report released by market watcher Zona Research is bullish on the prospects for the technology: "While it might be appealing to believe that this technology simply represents Microsoft's response to the network computer concept, we believe the company is responding to a large, pent-up corporate demand for more affordable, more manageable client-server infrastructure choices," it stated.

The second WTS beta includes improvements in performance and utilities to facilitate application installation and configuration, according to the company. A WTS server can typically support 15 to 25 users per server processor, Frederiksen said, offering support for a total of 100 users in a four-way machine. The executive said future WTS releases will go beyond that limit to support eight-way systems.

With the release of Windows NT 5.0, the mammoth upgrade that is expected by the end of this year or early next year, certain core WTS functionality will find its way into the base "kernel" of the NT OS, according to previous interviews with Microsoft executives.

In conjunction with the beta releases, third-party software firms are readying tools to take advantage of the technology. Cruise Technologies will announce new software to extend client support to wireless client devices. GraphOn also is readying tools that allow WTS to support Unix-based "X" clients.

Citrix will offer a migration path from its current WinFrame technology to the pICAsso for $1,495 per server.