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Mitsubishi to enter U.S. PC market

Mitsubishi Electric will make its entrance into the U.S. PC market with a Net PC at PC Expo, where Dell Computer will also debut its first Net PC.

Mitsubishi Electric will make its entrance into the U.S. PC market with a Net PC at PC Expo, where Dell Computer will also debut its first Net PC.

Net PCs are "sealed-case" systems that will typically have no floppy disk drive or slots for add-in cards. Promoted by Intel, Microsoft, and Compaq, the systems are designed to reduce PC ownership cost for companies by allowing IS staff to maintain and manage the systems from the center of the corporate network, instead of visiting each box.

Dell and Mitsubishi will take the stage this coming Monday to demonstrate their prototypes.

Although Dell's participation was expected, Mitsubishi's demonstration of a Net PC comes as a surprise. Mitsubishi has been virtually absent from the U.S. PC market, though it is a player in Japan. It also competes in the U.K. market through subsidiary Apricot Computers.

Mitsubishi's Net PC will come from Apricot, according to sources. Mitsubishi officials could not be reached for comment.

Dell will demonstrate a Net PC that will eventually emerge as part of Dell's OptiFlex desktop family, said Ken Bissell, a Dell spokesman. While Bissell declined to provide concrete product details, he made it clear that it will be an Intel-based machine which conforms to the Net PC standard.

"The form factor will be smaller. The configuration will be different. Access to the chassis is limited," he said. The machine will also run a Windows operating system, most likely Windows NT.

Dell will not necessarily announce a finished Net PC, he said, or shipping dates.

Nonetheless, Dell's preview is significant because executives at the Austin, Texas-based company have been vague on their Net PC plans. Although the company helped set the Net PC standards, Dell executives have questioned in the past whether a new form factor is needed. The company announced last month that it would incorporate "Managed PC" technology into its desktops, which ostensibly imports some of the benefits of a Net PC.

The Net PC show of force will likely be the first major highlight of PC Expo, which runs from June 16 through June 19 in New York.

Lower-powered and less versatile than ordinary desktops, Net PCs will occupy a significant market niche in the future, proponents claim, because they will cut the per-user cost of computing. Net PCs place the bulk of the work on corporate servers, which should drastically streamline administrative costs.

Compaq, IBM, and Hewlett-Packard will join Intel, Dell, and Mitsubishi on stage for the presentation to demonstrate their prototypes for the Net PCs.

Still, despite the cavalcade of hardware stars behind the Net PC initiative, interest in the platform, or in the competing NC standard from Oracle, remains lukewarm.

"We've said no to the Net PCs for now," said Craig Froelich, product marketing manager at NovaQuest InfoSystems, a Los Angeles-based integrator. Among other questions: What role would a Net PC or NC play in the corporate environment that isn't already being filled adequately by desktops or terminals?

"It's hard to find a large corporation interested in it. Anybody with any scars in this business doesn't want to be the first to do anything," commented Mike Anderer, vice president of systems integration at Ikon Office Solutions, a large international integrator. "Right now it's kind of a manufacturing and standards war. In a year or two it might be a viable product."