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Software blurs thin client line

New software for server-based applications from Network Computing Devices allows "thin" clients to act like "fat" PCs.

Network Computing Devices (NCDI) announced today that it has begun shipments of software that allows server-based applications to be run on almost any client computer, including network computers (NCs), Windows NT and Unix workstations, and desktop PCs.

The newest version of NCD's WinCenter software blurs the line between "thin client" network computers and "fat" PCs. Typically, client PCs have their own drives for data storage and their own high-performance processors for data processing. Thin client NCs, on the other hand, store data on remote server computers and often use servers for data processing as well.

Though NC's WinCenter thin-client software relies on a powerful server computer for processing power, it can access fat client-type Windows applications on the server, as well as Unix, Java, and mainframe-based "legacy" applications.

But NCD is facing keen competition in the field of multiuser networked environments. Microsoft has said it will eventually offer the multiuser capability to its customers in Windows NT but has yet to say if it will develop the technology itself or license the technology from Citrix Systems or another company.

NCD's WinCenter 3.0 offers a "universal desktop" capability that integrates all remote applications on the user's screen and gives them a Windows NT appearance. A desktop icon can launch remote applications and a Task Manager window allows a user to stop applications running on servers across the company's network.

With this capability, a network computer such as IBM's Net Station (manufactured by NCD), Oracle's NC, and even older desktop PCs with 486-class processors challenge the recently-defined NetPCs for space on corporate desktops. NetPCs, due out later this year, are basically PCs that can be configured and managed from a server but still have local disk storage and powerful processors for application processing.

Because the NCD WinCenter is server-centric, NCD has added the ability to automatically log a user on to the server which is being used the least for improved nework performance. For better reliability, sites can set up clusters of WinCenter servers that provide the same set of applications if one server becomes unavailable.

To help reduce training and administration costs, help desk personnel can remotely "shadow" a user session and even move a mouse pointer on the user's screen for training sessions.

WinCenter 3.0 is currently available at a suggested list price in North America of $2,295 for a five-user package. Licenses for an additional five users for each server package start at $1,345, while current customers can upgrade at $135 for the same package.