At Comdex today, Microsoft introduced the first beta version of its multiuser Windows technology, with companies such as NCD, Wyse and Tektronix showing Windows-based thin client devices connecting to it.
Windows-based Terminal Server, formerly known under the codename Hydra, will ship this week to 1,000 beta testers. However, the product is still missing some key components.
Notably missing is the special version of Windows CE 2.0, the handheld operating system, that is to be the primary client to run applications on Hydra. This version, when it becomes available, will include the T-Share protocol, which is used to run Windows applications remotely from a Hydra server. Microsoft partners at the show said they were still waiting for Microsoft to ship them the operating system and the protocol.
John Frederiksen, lead product manager for Microsoft's business systems division, said T-Share is ready, and that T-Share versions that run on Windows 95 and Windows for Workgroups PCs are included with the first beta.
However, the T-Share version for Windows CE is not there yet. Also, T-Share itself is still lacking key features, such as support for streaming audio or the ability to use local devices such as printers on a T-Share client. One Microsoft partner said at the show: "Microsoft still hasn't decided on the functionality" of T-Share.
Instead, Microsoft was showing Hydra being accessed by clients running a number of different operating systems and using the ICA protocol from Citrix. They accessed Hydra via the picasso add-on to Hydra, which was also introduced on Monday. Picasso adds ICA support to Hydra, as well as a number of manageability features missing from the Microsoft product, such as centralised management of multiple servers and the management of applications.
Both Hydra and picasso are based on technology from Citrix' currently shipping product Winframe, which is a multiuser Windows server running on top of Windows NT 3.51. Microsoft selected Winframe as the basis for its Hydra server, but chose to use T-Share and not Citrix ICA as the main protocol - despite the hundreds of thousands of ICA-based terminals already installed with customers. Companies such as NCD have said that their current ICA clients will be upgradable to T-Share, when it ships.
Microsoft is positioning ICA as an alternative to T-Share for allowing users on non-Windows systems to access Windows applications. ICA already runs on Unix and the Macintosh, as well as in Java-based browsers.
Though it will be possible for non-Windows systems, and notably network computers, to access Windows applications, Microsoft partners at the show are claiming Microsoft "hasn't ruled out" a pricing scheme where Hydra user licences would be more expensive for users with a non-Windows system. This would put NC-like devices at a price disadvantage.
Frederiksen said: "We are considering a Hydra user licence as a kind of Win32 licence. So it would make some sense that users who already have a Windows licence should pay less".
Microsoft revealed that it is working on two seperate versions of Hydra. The first, Windows-based Terminal Server 4.0, will be an add-on to Windows NT 4.0. At the same time, Microsoft is developing version 5.0, which will run on top of NT 5.0 and will use the Active Directory and the Microsoft Management Console. Microsoft said that shipment dates are dependent on the feedback on beta 1, but Microsoft partners at the show said they were expecting the product by June.
NCD, Wyse, Boundless, Neoware Systems (formerly HDS Network Systems) and Tektronix all announced they plan to develop Windows-based terminals to access Hydra. These devices are expected to be priced around $500 (see seperate story).
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