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Wyse says no to NCs

Also backing away from NC plans, the company's product strategy illuminates the current turmoil within the "thin client" movement.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
3 min read
Wyse will show off four new types of terminals at Comdex next week, including a Java-based terminal that will compete against network computers (NCs) and a Windows terminal to run with Microsoft's next-generation Hydra server software.

The Java-based terminal is a scaled-down prototype of an NC the terminal maker had been shopping around earlier this year.

Wyse's product strategy illuminates the current turmoil within the "thin client" movement.

After NCs were first explained last year, a number of vendors rushed forth with product plans to deliver low-powered, inexpensive desktops (called thin clients) that depend upon powerful back-end servers. Three types of desktops emerged, though hybrids of each exist: the Windows-Based Terminal (WBT), which performs almost no independent computing functions and connects to a Windows NT server for processing; the NC, which computes locally and often runs Java applications; and the Net PC, which computes locally using Windows standards.

Analysts and proponents admit that these devices are unlikely to replace full-function PCs. Instead, they will probably function as terminal replacements and gain only a limited market. Accordingly, hardware makers have been scaling back ambitions, focusing on one basic type of device to the exclusion of others and keeping an eye on eventual customer costs.

Wyse's decision to work exclusively on terminals reflects its own experience with customers, said Jeff McNaught, general manager and senior director at Wyse. We're repositioning our product to be more in line with terminals," he said, stating that Java terminals should cost less to acquire and administer than NCs.

"The type of operations that people want a Java device for are terminal operations, not computer functions," he added. "We've seen a lot of the promise of NCs not delivered."

The four types of terminals Wyse will showcase at Comdex are primarily characterized by how the devices will be deployed, said McNaught.

One terminal, code named "Scott", will be fashioned for networks running the Tarantella networking software from The Santa Cruz Organization. Tarantella streamlines data from heterogeneous servers and then allows terminals to interact with the data. The terminal, which will formally be released in February, comes with 8MB of RAM and a RISC processor. It will cost $500 to $600. "It's an NC optimized for the Unix world," said McNaught.

"Elite", which will ship in the same time frame, will be marketed as an Intranet terminal. The device will employ an HTML interface from Spyglass and connect to networks through WinFrame from Citrix among other platforms. Elite terminals will cost close to $650.

Third, the company will preview a new Winterm 2000 terminal that will run with Microsoft's Hydra terminal server. Hydra works in the same manner as WinFrame. Microsoft will show a beta of Hydra at Comdex.

Fourth, the company will give a preview of the Winterm 4000, a Java network terminal. The terminal will allow some local storage, which makes it similar to an NC or Net PC, but will not perform all computation locally, which makes the device more like a terminal. It will use the Java OS from Sun, but use a "smaller" virtual machine than an NC would use.

While the product earlier was slated to be positioned as an NC, Wyse redesigned the WinTerm 4000 to reflect how customers were using the device in beta deployments.

Typically, "Java is used as a local client as an interface to a larger application server," he said.