In the name of the customer, Gateway 2000 and Acer are pioneering yet another PC product category that is emerging in the wake of the NetPC hype.
The two vendors have chosen to spurn the NetPC specifications as put forward by Intel and Microsoft in favour of low-cost, manageable PCs that can still offer some amount of flexibility and accessibility for IS managers.
"We've worked closely on these specs, and this is what customers want," said Ted Waitt, CEO of Gateway. "The specs have really evolved over some time: first it was a sealed box, but then we realised a 'sealable' box was a better idea."
Intel is calling the category "flexible managed PCs" and is placing them somewhere between NetPCs and traditional PCs.
"A flexible managed PC is a PC that has management capabilities and a fair amount of flexibility as to which applications you would like to have on it," an Intel representative said.
Analysts see the move as a symptom of a larger problem.
"Intel has been blind-sided by the customers," said Roger Kay, an analyst at International Data Corporation. "If you seal the front and the back of the box, you are frightening the IS manager. You need to be able to open the box."
Gateway's answer to the customer is the E 1000, which will begin shipping in July, sporting a newly designed chassis that is half of the size of the average desktop box. In addition, it features a 166MHz Pentium processor, 16Mb of RAM, a 1.2Gb hard drive, a floppy drive, integrated 10/100Mbit/sec Ethernet, 16-bit audio, and one PCI and one shared PCI/ISA expansion slot.
Acer announced its Network Ready PCs this month that also miss the NetPC mark by only one or two features.