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IBM readies Comdex rollout

IBM will debut three separate platforms for network computers at Comdex.

IBM (IBM) will debut three separate platforms for network computers at Comdex.

In addition to the Network Station announced in September, IBM will also have network computer (NC) technology demonstrations of a Power PC 603e reference platform for OEMs and an Intel processor-based platform, say sources familiar with the Comdex rollout.

"[The NC] is wide-open territory. [IBM] has different marketing objectives for different markets. This is a three-pedastal rollout," said a source familiar with IBM's strategy.

The OEM-targeted PowerPC NC reference platform is being handled by IBM's Microelectronics group in Austin, Texas, and will be marketed to other companies looking to build NCs, say sources.

It will come as a "kit" and offer support for Microware's OS-9 operating system, Java, and other technologies, said sources close to IBM. It will also offer fast PowerPC processors such as the 200-MHz 603e and competitive graphics subsystems such as those based on S3 graphics chips.

On the other hand, The Network Station platform-based NC is being built by Network Computing Devices (NCD) of Mountain View, California, and will be offered as a finished IBM product to end users.

The Network Station features a PowerPC 403 microcontroller, ACTware (by NCD) as the operating system, 8MB of RAM, and no local disk drive. This is slated to ship in March of next year and will be priced at about $700.

The Network Station will use NCD "Wincenter" software on a Pentium or Pentium Pro Windows NT server to allow users to run Windows applications.

The Windows applications run natively on the server, NCD said. All application processing is done on the NT server while graphics are handled by the Network Station client.

The Network Station can also serve as a terminal for legacy applications such as IBM AS/400 5250 sessions and 3270 sessions. It will also have full support for Unix applications.

IBM will also showcase an Intel processor-based platform at Comdex, according to sources.

Though it is not clear yet exactly how this Intel-based platform will manifest itself, Intel, Microsoft, and PC vendors such as Compaq, Dell, and Hewlett-Packard have come out in support of an Intel-processor-based NetPC platform which calls for a sealed-case design with a minumum configuration of a 100-MHz Pentium and 16 MB of RAM.

The platform is backed by Microsoft's Zero Administration initiative which calls for cost-reducing PC management technologies.