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Terminal makers open Windows

Terminal vendors and now large corporate customers are signing on board the "thin-client" Windows platform.

Hardware vendors are lining up small desktops and back-end servers to coincide with the release of Microsoft's Windows for terminal computers, even as customer interest in Network Computers based around Java appears to be fading.

Network Computing Devices, Wyse, and Boundless all

NCD's ThinStar
NCD's ThinStar Windows-based Terminal
announced new computer terminals that will support Microsoft's Windows Terminal Server (WTS), code-named Hydra, while Axil and other second-tier vendors pledged to support the architecture on their servers.

The "thin client" arena is likely to capture the computing world's attention during the next few months. Though often regarded as a segment technology, the thin-client architecture has begun to attract corporate customers, hardware vendors, and resellers. Growing interest has spilled over into the debate on which thin systems--Java-based network computers or Windows-based Terminals running Hydra and an embedded version of Windows CE--will emerge as the market leader.

Windows Terminal is a technology for low-end computing devices that are used for very basic tasks, such as simple data entry. The end-user or "client" device has relatively little processing power and instead relies on a powerful server to do the data crunching.

Earlier this week, Intel announced an investment in NCD and said that the two companies would work to create terminals based around Intel microprocessors. The initial Intel terminals, likely to be the first Intel-based machines running the Windows CE operating system, will come out in the third quarter, according to NCD, and use 133-MHz Pentium chips.

Intel-compatible terminals are currently available from other vendors.

Sun, meanwhile, will make its JavaStation available to the general public later this month amid growing customer indifference. Thin-client vendors, analysts, and even Sun resellers say that delays combined with the lack of corporate-level Java applications are causing interest in these boxes to wane.

"The reality is that people are not deploying Java applications today, so we haven't seen the volume," said Lorraine Hariton, senior vice president of marketing and business development for NCD, which manufactures NCs for IBM as well as terminals under its own name.

Even Sun appears to be less than excited. "Their silence [on JavaStations] is deafening," said a Sun reseller.

While the NC architecture is more developed than the WBT platform, momentum appears to be shifting toward the Windows terminals, which operate using the WinFrame system from Citrix

"If either of these are going to make it, WBTs have more potential," said Eileen O'Brien, terminal analyst for International Data Corporation. "I think 1999 will be the breakthrough year."

Beyond operating systems, NCs and Windows Terminals differ in how they work. NCs allow for local processing of applications. Windows Terminals are completely server-centric. The internal processor exists only to relay information to the server, where all computing takes place. NCs cost around $750. WBTs cost slightly less, but will be under $500 in the relatively near future, said Bob Gilbertson, chief executive officer at NCD.

The terminals announced today will be previewed over the next few months and become generally available in the second quarter, when Hydra is released.

Wyse released four versions of its Winterm 2000 terminal today. The machines all use Intel-compatible processors and are differentiated by their design. At the low end of the line sits the Winterm 2310 SE, which comes with no terminal and sells for around $600, said Jeff McNaught, general manager at Wyse. Other models come with built-in monitors or LCD screens and can cost up to $2,500.

Boundless said that its Viewpoint TC 300 is in beta and will be released when Microsoft's Hydra server software comes out. The machine will use an AMD 5X86 processor running at 133 MHz and cost around $749.

For its part, NCD announced the ThinStar, a RISC processor-based terminal that will be released in the second quarter.

Along with the client announcements, Axil and Data General said that they would support the technology on their servers.

While larger vendors have yet to weigh in, executives from Boundless as well as Wyse said that companies such as Compaq and Hewlett-Packard are working behind the scenes to support the terminal market.