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NCD announces new NCs

But the company thinks the "thin client" market is still waiting on Microsoft.

Network Computing Devices announced new versions of its network computers even while the market for terminal replacements awaits the official imprimatur of Microsoft.

The new Explora 400, 450, and 700 network computers can access Windows, Java, or legacy applications on a central server, while the Explora 700 has suitable processing power for running Java programs locally.

A network computer is defined loosely as one that relies on a powerful central server for access to data and applications. These devices, which promise to be less expensive to administer and maintain than PCs, offer more capabilities than traditional text terminals, also called dumb terminals for their lack of processing power.

While some NCs advocated by Oracle download applications to the client and do most of the processing locally, NCD and others sell terminals which let the server computer do the processing. The client computer's processor in this case mostly works on displaying graphics on a screen. Network computers that are completely Java-based have yet to gain much favor among corporate customers.

"Most people think about the NC as being what Larry Ellison and Scott McNealy are promoting...Our perspective is very different," said Lorrain Harriton, senior vice president for marketing at NCD. "We know it is absolutely key to focus on Windows access. It's a mistake to link NCs with Java applications. We believe in thin clients which can be provided in a number of different ways," she said.

Microsoft is currently working on specifications for Windows terminals that resemble the network computers the company has derided, with the exception that Java would most likely run on a Windows NT server. Windows terminals would have the ability to access Unix applications as well as Windows programs once Microsoft releases its next version of the Windows NT operating system with multiuser capabilities, sometime next year.

Defining how the devices work will be key to the acceptance of network computing, Harriton asserted.

"The marketplace has been stalled quite a bit, but as soon as they get their Windows terminals strategy clear, the market will take off," Harriton said. She expects Microsoft to elaborate on its strategy by the time Fall Comdex '97 rolls around.

NCD's new Explora 400, a step-up from a so-called dumb terminal, has a 33-MHz PowerPC processor, while the Explora 450 has a 66-MHz PowerPC processor, and support for displays up to 1280-by-1024 resolution. Both new models can automatically adjust to 10-mbps or 100-mbps Ethernet network speeds. The higher-end Explora 700 features a 64-bit MIPS processor, software for running Java programs, and 100BaseT connectivity.

The new Explora line, which replaces the current Explora, Explora Pro, HMX and HMX Pro thin clients, is compatible with the existing systems, the company said.

The new Explora 400 Series, to ship in October, is priced starting under $700. The high-performance Explora 700 has a list price of $1,695 and will ship in November.