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NCs put on a friendly face

With the first network computers due to roll off production lines by the end of the year, companies are designing graphical user interfaces that put a friendly face on the devices.

With the first network computers due to roll off production lines by the end of the year, companies are designing graphical user interfaces (GUIs) that put a friendly face on the devices.

At Comdex in mid-November, one company, TriTeal (TEAL), plans to introduce a unique solution that will allow NC users to run familiar GUIs, including the Windows 95, Macintosh, and OS/2 interfaces, on any Java-powered device, company executives told CNET.

The company is also in discussions with IBM (IBM) to bundle its software with Big Blue's network computer, also be introduced at Comdex, according to sources.

TriTeal officials declined to comment on its relationship with IBM. Representatives at Big Blue could not be reached by press time.

The company could get a boost from a bundling deal with IBM, but TriTeal, which has not named its product yet, will face stiff competition from a much larger player that is staking its claim in the NC space: Sun Microsystems.

This week, Sun announced HotJava Views, a graphical environment that will initially work only on its JavaStation NC and later on any device that runs JavaOS.

Both Sun and TriTeal are counting on their software becoming a kind of next-generation Windows that provides users with an interface to manage local and network files and launch applications on low cost NCs. The companies' products will still require an underlying operating system, such as JavaOS, to control computer hardware in the same way Windows 3.1 requires DOS.

However, TriTeal believes that its product may have an edge over HotJava Views because it runs on top of any device and OS with a Java Virtual Machine, including NCs and traditional PCs. And because a company can customize the look and feel of the interface, the TriTeal product holds the potential for providing a single common GUI on different computers throughout the enterprise, said Jeffrey Witous, CEO of TriTeal.

"We needed to deliver a desktop that would eliminate the GUI wars," he said. "[A GUI] should be a style choice."