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Sun attempts to revive JavaStation

The company hopes airline deals and price cuts will help its network computing dreams catch fire.

Although the JavaStation failed to catch fire the first time around, Sun cut prices on the systems today and will launch a series of pilots with airlines next year in an effort to revive its network computing dream.

Sabre Group Holdings, the airline reservation system operator, will deploy an airline reservation system pilot program centered around the JavaStation in the first quarter and begin to resell Sun servers and JavaStations to airlines and travel agents, said Steve Tirado, the company's vice president of network computer systems. At least three other airlines will begin using pilots in the first quarter as well, he said.

Meanwhile, the company lopped off $200 from the price of the basic JavaStation today. The basic system, which comes with 32MB of memory, has gone from $699 to $499 without monitor. The price cut was made to make the systems more competitive with lower-end PCs, a Sun spokeswoman said.

While Sun maintains that network computing is catching on, the company admits that the concept has fallen well below their initial expectations. NCs and the JavaStations emerged with huge amounts of fanfare in 1996.

Proponents said that NCs, which are essentially stripped-down computers that rely on servers for data and applications, would cost less to acquire and maintain. But NCs largely floundered in the market because of product delays and the declining price of PCs.

"It's certainly happening a whole lot slower than we would like," Tirado said.

One of the largest problems has also been the lack of Java-based applications for NC systems. A selling point of NCs has been that users can adopt applications written in Java with an NC system and avoid depending on Microsoft applications.

Observers, however, have said that many of the Java-based applications made for the JavaStation were buggy or slow or both. Email applications were taking minutes to load. A potential major contract with Federal Express went south because of software problems.

"It was bug prone. Software was going from the lab to the customer," said one developer familiar with Sun's efforts.

"There is an application lag," Tirado added. The Sabre Group trial, in fact, is only making its debut in 1999 because "it's taken that amount of time" to develop the applications.

Another potential market will begin to emerge with ISPs, he said. These companies are beginning to take over more of the network management and data storage functions for corporations. The network computer concept conceivably will appeal to this market because NCs are made for centralized management.