The Network Computer is with us. After many months of speculation, hardware devices are now appearing, lending weight to arguments in favour of thin client computing.
While Sun Microsystems boss Scott McNealy has already travelled the corridors of Canberra with JavaStation tucked under his arm, more recently it was IBM's turn to enjoy the limelight, unveiling its Network Station locally, although that company lays claims to being the first to do so worldwide.
The IBM Network Station is a small black box about the size of a modem and weighing less than one kilogram. However, IBM says its physical dimensions do not measure its true value, with the machine capable of displaying applications hosted on numerous server platforms simultaneously - while also running Java applications and a browser.
Noted advantages of the Network Station over the traditional PC include a healthy cost of ownership comparison (a 50 to 75 per cent reduction according to the Gartner Group) and the ability to add intuitive graphical interfaces to traditional dumb terminal server applications.
And at around $900 the asking price is not quite Larry Ellison's $500 vision, but it is still significantly cheaper than a standard PC.
"We see a pretty big opportunity, given the large number of green screens that are in the marketplace at the moment, and we see a requirement that users have for a more simple, manageable environment," IBM's general manager for servers, Andrew Baker said. "There are a number of users of PCs currently in corporate situations who are required to maintain their own environments, do their own software version upgrades, and be a part-time hardware specialist - in many cases for limited use of the full function of their desktop PCs. An environment of NCs is extremely simple and something we believe that users in the right circumstances will warm to."
As the product will not appear until the end of this year, Baker says a number of the strategies that will be employed to move product in to the market are still being finalised. He expects IBM's existing RS/6000 and AS/400 business partners will represent the front line in NC sales, and hence will be educating them accordingly. "We'll be going out to them with briefings and education seminars early next year. We would see that we will drive this product primarily through our server business partner channels, given that we have those relationships in place."