A coalition of the PC industry's heavyweights have completed the long-awaited specification for the NetPC, a specification they hope will define a new generation of networked PCs.
Compaq Computer, Hewlett-Packard, Dell Computer, Microsoft, and Intel have posted the final version of specifications for the NetPC. The surprise is that the spec now makes room for the Alpha processor from Digital Equipment as well as Intel chips.
The NetPC now has an official definition, according to the freshly minted specification: "The Net PC is designed to be a 'sealed case' that prevents end-user access for changing the system hardware or software configuration. However, the NetPC preserves the corporate investment in existing Windows-based...software while [adding] support [for] Internet and intranet software based on Java and Microsoft ActiveX solutions."
The NetPC management specifications also require that a system can be set up, started, and controlled from a remote location. According to the initiative's promoters, this saves a company money because information systems personnel do not have to physically handle every computer to maintain them.
The specification's phraseology is in fact reminiscent of mainframe computer days, as when it states: "The benefits of PC-based computing can be preserved and enhanced through greater centralized control."
The basic minimum hardware requirements for a NetPC call for a 133-MHz Pentium processor, 16MB of memory, and a "smart" hard disk drive. The specification, however, also includes Digital's Alpha processor for NetPCs running Windows NT, according to a 147-page specification sheet. The spec does not require a floppy drive, though it is "recommended."
It is also recommended that NetPCs have Device Bay technology, which will allow users to have a common bay which accepts a wide range of devices including hard disk drives, CD-ROM drives, DVD drives, and floppy disk drives.
NetPCs from Compaq and Hewlett-Packard are expected later this year.
The NetPC can run either Windows 95 or Windows NT Workstation, although the backers expect that corporate users will save more in total cost of ownership with Windows NT.
Microsoft is planning technology for Windows NT 5.0 and its Memphis operating systems, which enhance the management and control of NetPCs. Both Windows NT 5.0 and Memphis are next-generation Microsoft operating systems due next year.
The specification draws on a number of technologies including Intel's Desktop Management Interface, a framework to define industry-standard interfaces that allow remote PC inventory, and Microsoft's PC 97 Hardware Design Guide, a set of guidelines for Windows-compatible PCs. (Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.)
The 1.0 specification also incorporates Microsoft's Zero Administration Initiative for managing PCs remotely, its Web Based Management Interface, and its Win32 Driver model. Technologies such as FireWire 1394 and the Universal Serial Bus are also included.