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MS offers new NC alternative

Microsoft highlights a new class of diskless Windows-based terminals in its latest salvo to combat NCs.

Microsoft's (MSFT) plans to enter the stripped-down desktop computer market will be highlighted today by the software giant's latest initiative--a new class of diskless Windows-based terminals.

It is Microsoft's latest salvo to combat plans for network computers that are far cheaper to operate than standard personal computers. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates is scheduled to outline plans for the terminals in a speech at an industry conference at San Francisco today. He also will give an update on the company's Simply Interactive PC initiative for cutting the cost of owning and operating PCs that run Microsoft software.

The new Windows terminal initiative is Microsoft's latest gambit in the industrywide race to offer machines for corporate users that do not need costly maintenance once they are installed on a network. Microsoft also announced specifications for OnNow power management-enabled PCs.

The Windows terminal hardware and accompanying software will target a different market than the current NetPC initiative that Microsoft is advocating with Intel. The new terminals are expected to include functionality similar to the "dumb terminals," often associated with mainframe-based configurations.

The terminals are intended to be cheaper and less feature rich than even the NetPC protocol and accompanying hardware. The current NetPC lets users store data and applications locally. A Windows terminal would rely on Windows-NT-based servers to deliver applications and store data.

The slimmed-down Windows terminal would have no hard disk and only enough memory to draw applications and data from a server computer which would "take over the machine," said Adam Taylor, a Microsoft group product manager.

Technology to support Windows terminals will be included in Windows NT 5.0, the next release of the operating system, due out early next year.

The OnNow initiative is intended to reduce the boot times for personal computers and offer users a mechanism so that a computer can respond to incoming information, such as faxes, even when it is turned off. Seven new device-class specifications support OnNow, as well as three new power management protocols.

Separately, Microsoft entered into an agreement with Matsushita Electric Industrial to provide support for Digital Video in DirectX media services, a set of interfaces for multimedia tools.

Reuters contributed to this report.