[Luddites of the IT world I'll be the first to admit that the Network Computer seems like a good idea. It won't happen today, and it won't happen quickly, but in the long term I quite like the idea of having a system "here" with all the management and power needed to make it work held and maintained "somewhere else", by someone else. Perhaps I am the victim of the hype certain companies have generated, but there is now evidence that I might be in a minority. Most potential users, it seems, are none to keen on the idea. This evidence comes in the form of a survey produced on behalf of Compaq, by Benchmark Research. The fundamental premise behind the survey has been to ask corporate IT managers whether they see a role for the NC or not, and 70% say "not". Then again, 56% say the same thing about the alternative, the NetPC. Compaq claims to be agnostic about the choices users might make, for it makes NetPCs. It could, relatively easily, make NCs if the market demanded them, and it certainly makes the big servers either of these would need to make them work effectively. But if IT managers are against the NC at the moment, what is their objection? Well, as a measure of the effectiveness of PR activity, it would appear that the survey results are as much about knee-jerk reaction as level-headed evaluation. The majority simply feel the NC has been over-hyped, and don't believe what is claimed for it. The trouble with the NC is that it proposes not only a new architecture, but also new applications and new network management schemes. That, for most IT managers, simply seems to be too many "news" at the same time. While the main argument for NCs, the increased centralised control that it gives back to IT managers, is welcomed by a small majority of them, a bigger majority fear the increased dependence on the network and the server. Couple this to the need to buy, bigger servers running new applications and operating systems, as well as new desktop workstations, and the complete "new lamps for old" argument can look a bad business decision. What most IT managers want, the survey shows, are flexible systems based on more of the same Windows PC hardware and, more specifically, applications. Most felt that applications development costs would be higher for the NetPC, and higher still for the NC, and that with the latter they would need to get their hands dirty doing it in Java. The alternative, ActiveX, is seen as far more industry-driven, where the software suppliers would carry most of the development costs. Perhaps the most important part of the survey shows that IT managers collectively want two things that, currently, are difficult to resolve. First, they want that safe Windows-based environment, but second, they want far better management and control of that environment. Most, the survey shows, seem to spend their time fire-fighting the management of the network on a day-to-day basis. This means they are too busy to do anything else like applications development. They accept the NC argument of better management, but are scared of the investment in servers and applications development involved. As a snapshot of current user emotions this survey is fascinating, but as a true guide to the direction they will take it is too early. I will be interested to see the same questions asked in a year's time. I can remember when people scoffed at the idea of the PC as a business system, and for very similar reasons.
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