The software, called the Desktop Management Interface (DMI), is a tool that should make it easier for corporations to manage PCs. The software can be added to any existing PC line.
The Net PC specification is a separate effort promoted by Microsoft, Intel, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, and Dell. It was intended to spawn a new category of low-maintenance PCs which would enable large corporations to reduce the total cost of managing PCs.
"The bottom line is that these [manageability] tools can be applied to any PC," said Bruce Stephen, group vice president at International Data Corporation. "This is the way it should have been in the first place," he added.
Dell will integrate DMI 2.0 into its OptiPlex corporate desktops, Latitude Xpi notebooks, and Workstation 400 systems along with Dell's own Inspector 4.0, an application that further eases administration. The software will come as a standard feature on all of these computers, but does not add to the price of any of them, said Anne Birlin, a Dell spokeswoman.
DMI technology allows a central administrator to monitor the health of desktops across a network as well as take inventory of the software that resides there, among other features. Potentially, tools like DMI can cut down administration costs by making it easier for corporations to gather information and take remedial action.
Support for DMI represents the first phase of a three-stage process. Next, Dell will support the Wired for Management Specification from Intel, which will allow administrators to boot up computers remotely when that specification becomes available in the near future. In the third phase, Dell will include support for the Zero Administration Kit from Microsoft, which is expected to reduce the cost of software upgrading.
Like the Chevrolet Corvair and Space Food Sticks, the Net PC seems destined to become an invention more famous than popular. Created as an alternative to the Network Computer (NC) touted by Sun Microsystems, the Net PC was envisioned as a sealed-case computer based on Intel and Microsoft technology.
Although less flexible than ordinary PCs, advocates said that Net PCs would reduce computing costs for large organizations because the boxes could be managed from a central server. Currently, corporations have to hire employees to shuttle between computers to load software; through DMI, which was part and parcel of Net PCs, software could be loaded remotely. Individual Net PCs were also supposed to cost less per machine that PCs.
A number of manufacturers unveiled prototypes for Net PCs at PC Expo in June, but one major vendor, IBM, has abandoned the Net PC.
At the same time, most manufacturers have begun to integrate DMI-like manageability features on their desktops and notebooks.
Despite the less enthusiastic support for the Net PC, manageability will prove to be a hot topic. Top-tier manufacturers are beginning to use manageability as a way to differentiate their products, said Stephen.