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IBM wants initials on NC

IBM announces the IBM Network Station, a device that will bring Web and email access to users for under $700, according to sources.

Aiming to be the first major company to offer a Network Computer, IBM announced today the IBM Network Station, a device that will bring Web and email access to users for under $700.

Along with Sun Microsystems, Oracle, and Apple Computer, Big Blue (IBM) has been among the leading proponents of NCs, stripped-down boxes used primarily for Internet access. Touting the devices as low-cost, easy-to-administer alternatives to traditional PCs for companies, IBM plans to offer another NC, dubbed the InterPersonal Computer (IPC), in addition to the Network Station.

Phil Hester, general manager of IBM's Interactive Solutions Group, sees this new offering as aimed at current marketplace needs that have been categorized as "desktop-attached LAN customers."

"Many of the customers that have AS/400,and other IBM servers, have character-oriented displays and are interested in moving to the more graphically-oriented user interface and also intranet solutions," Hester said. "The other way we think the market will evolve is to market-specific and industry-specific solutions, primarily business oriented applications like touch-screen devices, educational units, and things like that," he added.

Smaller than a school textbook, the Network Station will measure 8 inches by 10 inches and weigh 2-1/2 pounds. The device will also come with a PowerPC processor, network adapter, keyboard, mouse, and an optional monitor.

The device will support Ethernet and Token Ring connections, Java, and will allow users to access Internet and Lotus Notes groupware applications. The product, which will ship by the end of the year, will be jointly manufactured by IBM and Network Computing Devices.

The Network Station will contain Netscape Communications' Navigator 3.0 Web browser, which will be custom-built by Navio Communications, a new Netscape spin-off company.

Hester said that IBM has no current plans to introduce a consumer-oriented NC anytime soon. He says that there are a number of challenges facing consumer NCs, including what content or applications will run on the devices. The company isn't ignoring the market, though.

"We're doing exploratory work in that...We acknowledge that that's a marketplace we're looking at," Hester said.