For want of spectacular new products from any of the major exhibitors, the Comdex Spring exhibition appears to have turned into a showcase for Microsoft?s as yet unnannounced Windows Terminal Server (WTS).
Comdex Spring has moved to Chicago this year, where it will remain for the next 10 years. Roughly half of the exhibition space is taken up by Windows World and it is this half that holds most of the ? rather sparse ? new products.
The most prominent of these are various vendors? versions of the Windows Based Terminal (WBT), Microsoft's favoured thin client architecture. Wyse, NCD, Boundless and Tektronix all demonstrated very similar looking devices in the $600 to $900 price bracket that run Windows applications off NT servers without the need for significant local storage of data or apps.
The server end of this approach to computing - designed to challenge the Oracle network computer concept - is Windows Terminal Server, formerly known as Hydra, which is expected to ship in June. It is based on multiuser Windows technology that Microsoft purchased from Citrix last year and will run on top of NT 4.0.
Microsoft allows two methods of approaching Hydra - either using the new RDP protocol (formerly named T-Share) or Citrix? ICA protocol. The standard protocol will be RDP. To use ICA, customers will have to buy Citrix? Hydra add-on Metaframe (formerly codenamed Picasso), adding to the cost of a solution.
However, RDP will only run on top of Windows based systems - 16-bit Windows, Windows 95, NT or Windows CE. Most vendors at Comdex Spring agreed that, in its current incarnation, RDP is both slower and more limited in functionality than the older ICA.
All the WBT manufacturers demonstrated Windows CE running on their systems, connecting to Hydra using RDP, ICA or both.
Tektronix is already shipping devices that run a proprietary operating system and ICA, but that can later be upgraded to Windows CE devices with RDP. A basic device from Tektronix, without monitor, costs $745.
Boundless demonstrated the Viewpoint 400, running RDP on Windows CE, and the Viewpoint 300, running ICA on Windows CE.
NCD demonstrated the Thinstar 200 WBT,, based on a 100MHz Mips R4300 processor. The device will ship with 8mbytes of Ram (expandable to 32mbytes) and 8mbytes of Flash memory. When the device ships, it will retail for a price around $600, not including a monitor. It will support both ICA and RDP.
Wyse showed various devices in its Winterm family. Neoware showcased a $699 WBT, while Boundless claimed to be the first to announce a WBT that supports audio. However, the audio feature is only supported over ICA.
Cruise Technologies presented a variation on the WBT concept: a keyboard-less, pen controlled portable device that connects to an NT server over a wireless connection. The device, codenamed Wilke, will be OEMd by Wyse.
Analysts are predicting that the shipment of Windows Terminal Server will lead to a surge in the sales of thin client devices.
Recent market statistics and predictions suggest that WBTs will outsell Java based network computers within a couple of years. In a report published in March, IDC predicts the WBT market will explode from worldwide unit shipments of 302,000 in 1998 to five million by 2002 ? out of a total thin client market of 6.8 million units.
According to data from Zona Research, thin clients based on Citrix ICA, the direct precursors of the WBT, already outsold Java NCs by almost three to one in 1997.
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