IBM has rejigged its thin client strategy, opting for a solutions approach that will bundle servers, thin clients and vertical applications for a number of vertical markets.
"One of the mistakes we made was, in the beginning, is we said 'we have this great technology - now what do you want to do with it?'", David McAughtry vice president of marketing for IBM's network computer division, admitted to 'Newswire'. "Now, we're going in with a solutions story."
IBM is putting together bundles of its Network Stations with servers and vertical applications from ISVs. The first market to be addressed will be retail, said McAughtry. "There's an incredible number of dumb screens waiting to be replaced in retail," said McAughtry. A thin client based solution for that market from IBM will appear in the first quarter of 1999, he said.
Other industries which IBM will focus include manufacturing, banking and finance.
The initial NC hype blew over more than a year ago. The first network computers offered disappointing performance, and Microsoft confused the market by launching its own version of the concept, the Windows Based Terminal (WBT).
Early backers of the NC such as Oracle and Sun have considerably scaled down their ambitions, and Tektronix has just sold its thin client business to NCD.
But in the meantime, said McAughtry, the thin client model has been gaining acceptance.
IDC recently predicted that the worldwide business market for thin clients - which encompasses Java NCs, WBTs and hybrids - will reach 6.8 million units in 2002, up from 507,000 in 1998. Some other estimates are much higher.
In 1997, IBM held about 20 per cent of the market, according to IDC.
IBMs earliest thin client models were essentially designed and built by NCD, but McAughtry said the latest Network Station 1000 is almost entirely an IBM product.
"My conviction is that a machine that does only Java is doomed to fail, and that a machine that is only a Windows Based Terminal is less than attractive," said McAughtry. He said that IBM and most other thin client vendors are now moving towards hybrid machines.
IBM has no plans to build a WBT, which is essentially a Windows CE-based terminal that runs Windows applications remotely off a server with Windows NT Terminal Server Edition. But IBM's Network Stations do offer support for Citrix' ICA protocol, allowing it to access NT servers that run Citrix Meta Frame environment on top of Terminal Server.
McAughtry said that desktop devices must be able to run such applications as Microsoft Office, which he describes as " legacy" software. "Most new enterprise application development we see with our customers is browser-oriented," said McAughtry. These new applications are based on HTML, mostly with some amount of Java code to enrich the interface.
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