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IBM NC dips under $500

Big Blue slashes prices on two of its Network Station models, apparently the market's first low-cost, affordable network computer.

IBM (IBM) slashed prices on two of its Network Station models, apparently giving Big Blue the market's first low-cost, sub-$500 network computer.

IBM's Network Station Series 100, including the "thin-client" computer, server and client software, and network adapter card, has been discounted to $499 from $649. Network computer (NC) advocates have proselytized that the devices would cost as little as $300, but to date no systems have reached the market anywhere near that price.

The Series 100 is IBM's low-end Network Station, primarily designed for basic Windows and text-based applications and limited Internet use. The Series 100 is powered with a 33-MHz PowerPC embedded processor and comes with 8MB of memory, expandable to 64MB.

"The market is beginning to mature," an IBM spokesman said in explaining the discounts. That is, as it continues increasing production volume, IBM can reduce its costs because of economies of scale, and therefore it can price the systems at a point where they can be marketed as an real alternative to cheap PCs.

The price action may also be an attempt to jump-start a technology that is not living up to its hype. Besides a shortage of products, the NC has suffered from a lack of industry-standard software and declining PC prices.

IBM already has managed to get around the technical immaturity of the Java operating environment, a problem that has stunted sales for Sun Microsystems and Oracle. The company offers systems with a Citrix operating environment, which allows users to access Microsoft and Unix applications stored on a central server.

Big Blue is also slashing the price of its Series 300 Network Station, which is designed for heavier Internet and intranet use. That system is powered by a 66-MHz PowerPC embedded processor and comes with 16MB standard memory, also expandable to 64MB.

The company also offers the 1000 Series, a Java-capable NC, for $999, and recently announced that it will team up with Sun Microsystems to develop a single, standardized Java OS for NCs.

As part of today's announcement, IBM said it plans to offer support for 30 different languages in systems management applications and instruction manuals. Network Station Manager software with National Language Support will be available later this summer.