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Network computers sales low

One of the most-hyped technologies of 1997, the network computer, was also one of the lowest sellers.

One of the most-hyped technologies of 1997, the network computer, was also one of the lowest sellers, a new study has found.

About 144,000 NCs were shipped last year, about half as many as had been projected, according to a report jointly prepared by Dataquest and its parent company, Gartner Group. Some 482,000 units are expected to be shipped this year.

Server-dominated computing, the network-centric computing architecture that the NC pioneered, will come to dominate by 2001, the study found. But NCs will have to overcome many obstacles to become the solution of choice.

The primary factor holding back the NC's widespread deployment has been the delay of a widely compatible software environment, Dataquest analyst Kimball Brown said. "This is really cart-before-the-horse stuff," he said. "The software architecture needs to happen before a major deployment happens."

Additionally, some corporations are turning to PCs as a "thin client" architecture with a software infrastructure that is already in place. As scaled-down inexpensive PCs that rely on servers for many applications continue to proliferate in the corporate environment, the PC may replace the NC as the thin client of choice, Brown noted.

The lack of standard operating environment has deterred many companies from early NC purchases. Today's announcement that Sun Microsystems and IBM will codevelop a single Java-based operating environment for NCs is a step in the right direction, Brown said.