Big Blue on Monday will add support for the Windows 2000 operating system to its Network Station computers, part of the hardware genre known as "thin clients," or stripped-down PCs that run programs off powerful server computers instead of from a unit on the desk. IBM made a similar announcement regarding Linux--the growing rival to Windows--earlier this week.
The change means IBM's Network Station will be able to access Windows 2000 servers and also systems running Windows NT 4 Terminal Server Edition. Until now, the system has relied solely on Citrix MetaFrame software to access Windows systems, a setup that some customers had griped about.
IBM, like many other PC manufacturers, is ramping up support across the board for Windows 2000, Microsoft's delayed corporate operating system that is scheduled to be formally released on Feb. 17.
Much is happening in the revived networked computing realm, and it's actually Linux that's leading the charge. IBM isn't the only major PC maker backing Linux in that realm. Compaq Computer and Hewlett-Packard also introduced such systems last year.
The worldwide thin-client market grew 83 percent during the first half of 1999 from a year earlier, according to International Data Corp.
IBM has been a big thin-client supporter of necessity. By relying on thin clients, the Armonk, N.Y.-based computer maker can offer customers a package capable of accessing the disparate mainframe and server operating systems it sells.
The change makes sense, because IBM's "customer base is pretty much embedded in legacy applications," said Technology Business Research analyst Bill Lesieur. But he sees another reason for IBM using Microsoft software to access Windows 2000.
"This could be related to IBM obviously being down right now and they're looking for some positive attention," Lesieur said. "The next two quarters are so important for it to return to profitability after the tough quarter."
Besides MetaFrame, and now WBT, IBM relies on "Network Station Manager, which is another Unix variant," said Paul Boulay, program marketing director for IBM thin clients. "It's both the combination of a server-side management and administration tool and also the client-side functional elements."
IBM will base its WBT thin client on the Network Station 2200, which will be available in April.