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NC firms seek market momentum

Network computer vendors lash out against what they call false claims about their devices, particularly the contention that NCs are a step backward.

SAN JOSE, California--Network computer (NC) vendors, seeking to build momentum in the corporate market, lashed out today against what they called false claims about their devices, particularly the contention that NCs are a step backward toward dumb terminals connected to central mainframe computers.

"The biggest misconception is that NCs are a step back, something that is going to be forced on people who don't want it," said Michael Kantrowitz, executive vice president with HDS Network Systems. He spoke at the Internet Expo trade show, sponsored by DCI.

"NCs provide real solutions to problems people have from PCs being asked to do something they're not designed to do," he insisted, saying PCs were designed as standalone units, not networked devices.

Mary Sellers, business systems manager with the Seattle Times newspaper, said she is thinking of replacing PCs in her organization with NCs, partly because hopes to save money on upgrading old 386- and 486-based PCs.

"It's easy to shift PC users into NCs," Ray Graham, Wyse Technology's senior vice president of sales and marketing, told Sellers. "It's easy to move from client-server because all the data is already on the server. Migration will be very simple."

Greg Blatnik, vice president of Zona Research, said a forthcoming study from his organization found savings of more than 50 percent on NCs over PCs with comparable screens, keyboards, and other attachments.

Still, even NC advocates such as IBM's James Gant, marketing vice president of the network computer division, admitted thin client devices like NCs require heftier servers to store data and applications. But he argued that savings on administration and faster deployment of new applications would more than balance the added costs of more muscular server hardware.

"There is no universal thin client," said Graham of Wyse, which has shipped 40,000 units of its Winterm 400 NC since November 1995. He listed variations by form, function, and price.

He expects the NC market to grow in three waves, first by replacing existing terminals linked to central mainframes or other data stores. Next will be PC users who use their machine primarily to access information on networks, which he estimated to be 60 to 70 percent of the PC market. Finally, users who utilize lots of processing power will move.

But Graham said growth in the NC market will require developing unified network services, including Java-based client-server tools, adaptable user interfaces, and session management using software agents.

"We incorporate SoftNC in our Winterm 4000," he said. "It makes the user interface configurable. You can make it look like any desktop--Windows, Macintosh, or your own company's custom look."