Does the Network Computer have what it takes to topple the Intel hegemony or is it just a tempest in a teapot? According to several analysts interviewed by CNET, the consensus appears to be the latter.
Both Intel and Dell have disclosed in the last few weeks that they are studying, possibly for release in 1997, a sealed-case, low-priced PC client for corporate customers as their answer to NCs from Oracle, Sun Microsystems, IBM, and others.
"This will never constitute a big enough piece of Intel's market to disrupt sales," said Tom Rhinelander, an analyst at Forrester Research.
"This is really a reactive move [on the part of Intel] because the concept is threatening, but it's not really that much of a threat to their chip sales," he added.
Intel's next-generation client PC in one low-end manifestation could be a small, sealed-case computer shaped like a pizza box with no floppy drive and only the bare minimum of hardware, an Intel executive said recently. Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Computer, also chimed in recently saying that the Intel-processor-based, sealed-case corporate PC it is studying would run a 32-bit operating system.
"The NC crowd preens and struts and Intel has to preen and strut, too," said Brian Murphy, an analyst for client-server computing at the Yankee Group, referring to the sealed-case PC concept and Intel's aggressive "Connected PC" marketing drive. "They can't respond to the NC with silence, even though not too many people give the NC a chance of succeeding in corporate America.
"The success of the NC isn't assured by any stretch of the imagination. I think that this is a knee-jerk, placeholder move by Intel. I don't think they expect to sell many of these things," he added.
Other analysts find the NC a dubious proposition. "We're real skeptical about the viability of the $500 NC [as proposed by Oracle, Sun and others], " said Dean McCarron, a principal at Mercury Research, a marketing research firm in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Rather, McCarron believes that Internet-savvy smart phones will be much more successful than NCs. Intel has its work cut out for it in building a low-cost client, he added. A bare-bones system with an inexpensive Pentium processor would still have a bill of materials worth about $700, and that's without software and a monitor.
Regardless of how this NC, sealed-box-PC scenario plays out, one thing is becoming very clear: vendors in both camps are pushing the buttons to make machines that are cheaper and easier to use.
Intel is an equity shareholder in CNET.