Sun has made its most valiant attempt yet to address concerns that users will have to dump their existing investment in PC equipment in order to take advantage of the NC or NetPC platforms.
At its JavaOne conference in San Francisco last week, Sun unveiled JavaPC, software which provides a way of converting ageing DOS machines into Network Computers for under $100 (#65). When they become available NCs and NetPCs will cost in the region of $500. JavaPC is expected to ship in the autumn, Sun said.
"There are 181 million eligible PCs in the marketplace," said David Spenhoff, a director of product marketing at Sun. "JavaPC lets corporations leverage a whole new computing paradigm, with a simple software upgrade."
The move is seen by some analysts as an attempt by Sun to muscle in on "zero administration" before Microsoft and Intel get a hold on this emerging market.
Neil Ward-Dutton, an analyst at researcher Ovum, said that first impressions indicate the JavaPC would benefit organisations. "They can reuse legacy hardware and have the potential to support the Java platform."
However, Ward-Dutton was unsure how Sun could make money out of JavaPC.
"Deep down I think this must be an attempt by Sun to push Microsoft out of a market which doesn't even exist yet."
In its current state, the software will only run adequately on a 486 DX2 or above PC with 8Mb of RAM. However, Amy Porter, European marketing manager at Sun, said she hoped the software would be able to run on 386 hardware by the time it ships.
The software also requires a network adaptor and a local hard disk for loading JavaPC when the machine powers up. It runs on top of DOS and does not require Windows. Instead, it provides its own graphical user interface called HotJava Views.
The software will ship with a number of productivity applets, including an Email reader, a calendar client, name and address book and the HotJava Web browser.
Users will be able to switch back and forth between HotJava Views and the Windows environment.
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