Despite the hype about supposedly cheaper-than-PC network computers, analysts that an accurate cost comparison between network computers and networked PCs isn't easy, since there is no hard data on the cost of as-yet-undeployed network computers.
Some analysts say users may find that the best way to reduce desktop costs is through tighter management of existing assets, rather than an investment in new hardware.
US-based Gartner Group estimates that the total cost of ownership of the average networked PC is more than $US13,000 per year, only 20 per cent of which (about $2,700) can be attributed to the cost of hardware and software. Almost one-third of the cost consists of technical support - an area IS managers named time and again when asked how costs are distributed.
Users said they are painfully aware of the costs of supporting networked PCs, but they aren't convinced that moving to server-centric network computers will necessarily be cheaper or give users the functionality they need.
IBM focuses on NCs
In other NC news, IBM has announced it is forming a Network Computer Division and recruited one of its top executives to run it.
IBM named Bob Dies, former head of the company's AS/400 Division, to lead the new group. The Network Computer Division will deliver its first product, the IBM NetStation PC, in small quantities next month in the US and in larger volume early next year.
However, Dies and Jim Gant, newly appointed marketing director for the new unit, declined to say when and if it would deliver an Intel-based model. The NetStation PC is centred around the RISC-based PowerPC chip.
"We will produce a variety of these systems, but the individual chip is not all that important," Gant said. "Whatever [chip] we choose, it will all be transparent to the user."
Corel does Video NC
On the Corel front, the company will ship in the first quarter a Java-based NC that can be used for videoconferencing. The NC will use a PowerPC chip, run Sun's Java Virtual Machine, and accept a Corel digital camera to have two-way video communications.
But some industry observers remain sceptical about any widespread interest for NCs, noting that the amount of RAM needed for NCs to effectively run rich Java- or Netscape-enabled environments or Lotus Notes will raise the price close to what it costs for full-blown PCs.