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IBM may see NetPC light

Hell-bent on proving not only that it has Net religion but also that it is nimble enough in adopting and producing products related to all things Internet, IBM has turned to Intel for a low-cost network PC, suggesting that Big Blue has also endorsed the NetPC platform.

IBM (IBM) is hell-bent on proving not only that it has Net religion but also that it is nimble enough in adopting and delivering products related to all things Internet, be it Java or network computers (NCs).

Now, IBM has turned to Intel (INTC) for a low-cost network PC, suggesting that Big Blue has also endorsed the NetPC platform.

IBM is working jointly with Intel on a "stripped-down PC to satisfy people's needs for networked computing at reduced cost," said a source close to IBM. The IBM PC is expected to comply with the specifications in the NetPC reference platform, confirmed the source. The company already has several non-Intel network computer initiatives under way and has announced the formation of a network computer division.

The IBM-Intel NetPC initiative comes on the heels of an announcement by the two companies at the end of October: the Advanced Manageability Alliance, which calls for joint work to develop standards that will lower the cost of managing networked PCs.

Both the Advanced Manageability Alliance and the Intel-based NetPC are intended as mechanisms to drive down the total cost of ownership of PCs on a network, which can be as high as $40,000 over a five-year period for today's PCs. The theory is that the monumental task of installing, maintaining, and trouble-shooting software is greatly reduced because management of these computers will be more centralized and automated.

The Intel-based NetPC platform has received backing from Microsoft, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, and other PC vendors. Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.

The NetPC specification calls for a more robust hardware configuration than some NCs proposed to date by companies such as Oracle, since it includes relatively hefty requirements such as support for a hard disk drive, 16MB of RAM, and at least a 100-MHz Pentium processor. It also specifies Windows 95 or Windows NT as the operating system, making the total configuration resemble a low-end PC rather than an NC.

But the IBM-Intel alliance goes beyond the NetPC platform and is an "extension" of the Advanced Manageability Alliance, said one source familiar with the two companies' collaboration.

The Advanced Manageability Alliance states that IBM will incorporate Intel products into its commercial Pentium Pro and Pentium desktop computers starting in the first quarter of 1997. IBM and Intel are also working on "next-generation" technologies and products intended to make the installation, configuration, and upgrade process easier for both new and existing PCs.

Upcoming products in this vein include IBM's LAN Client Control Manager and Intel's LANDesk Configuration Manager.