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NC vendors work with Open Group

A group of seven leading high-tech companies are working with The Open Group to formalize a standard for network computers.

A group of seven leading high-tech companies are working with The Open Group to formalize a standard for network computers (NCs).

The companies working with The Open Group include Netscape Communications, Netscape subsidiary Navio Communications, Apple Computer, IBM, JavaSoft, Oracle, and its unit Network Computer Incorporated, an Open Group executive said today. Collectively, the companies hope to strengthen the Network Computer Reference Profile, a set of guidelines for building NCs unveiled in May of last year.

The NC Reference Profile is a basic set of rules governing what manufacturers should include in Internet access devices, whether laptop NCs, videophones, or conventional PCs. The profile includes guidelines for supporting Internet protocols including HTTP and SMTP as well as hardware features, such as a minimum screen resolution of 640 by 480.

But while companies such as IBM, Oracle, and others prepare products based on the NC Reference Profile, the guidelines have never been formally submitted to a standards organization. The Open Group specializes in testing and branding software and hardware, such as Unix operating systems, to ensure compatibility between products. Microsoft is currently working with The Open Group to convert portions of its ActiveX Internet technology to a recognized standard.

According to Allen Brown, chief operating officer at The Open Group, his organization will test NC devices to make sure that each one renders Web pages in a similar fashion. Devices that pass muster will receive a brand mark that is currently being worked out between the NC vendors and The Open Group. Brown compared NC testing and branding to compact disc players, which receive a logo certifying that they work with all CDs.

"If you?re going to develop a new market and invite other suppliers to play, you have to make sure that there is no fragmentation on the suppliers side," Brown said today. "If you want to get rapid market take-up, you need conformance to standards."

Brown said the companies have submitted the NC Reference Profile for the organization's "fast track" approval process, which typically takes eight to twelve weeks to finalize a standard. He estimated that NC devices bearing the new brand will show up at the end of this year or the beginning of next year.