All hell broke out in Network Computer land last week. While the NC alliance basked in the glory that surrounded Sun's announcement of its much anticipated thin client, Microsoft and Intel embarked on a counter-initiative called the NetPC.
As expected, Sun's machine, officially known as the JavaStation, is based on the NC Reference Profile 1 specification jointly created by Apple, IBM, Netscape, Oracle and Sun in San Francisco in May this year. In contrast, the Microsoft/Intel NetPC initiative conforms to the Microsoft and Intel specification for Windows computing.
The basic JavaStation offers 8Mb of memory, built-in audio and a 100MHz MicroSparc processor and costs from #519. For an extra #180, Sun will throw in a PC-compatible 14in VGA monitor. Based on specifications published last week, the NetPC will include a 100Mhz Pentium, 16Mb of memory and built-in audio.
As part of the NetPC announcement, Microsoft said it will design a special version of Windows requiring "Zero Administration". Users will be able to update software remotely or move seamlessly from one machine to another with all their data, applications and customised environment accessible on the new PC.
Designed with manageability in mind, JavaStation does not provide slots for peripheral such as CD-ROMs and hard disks. Instead, applications written in Java reside on a Java-enabled server, along with user data and a user's customised desktop environment. The JavaStation is used solely to load Sun's HotJava Web browser and the user's desktop over the network.
Speaking at the launch of JavaStation, Scott McNealy, Sun's CEO, claimed Microsoft's "Zero Administration" NetPC would be as useful as "crackable encryption".
Attending the Microsoft announcement to endorse the NetPC were Compaq, Dell, Digital, Gateway 2000, Hewlett-Packard, Packard Bell, NEC and Texas Instruments. Notably missing from the list was IBM, which last week gave its full support to the AS/400 division's network computer, the Network Station.
For Sun, the JavaStation is one facet of a seven year network computer strategy. It also announced the Netra j family of servers and a new visual development tool called Studio which allows developers to build Java applications without writing any Java code.
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