IBM has condemned the NetPC as a dead end product that anyone can build but no-one really needs.
Speaking at a conference held for partners the channel and end user customers by reseller Computacenter, representatives of competing vendors debated the merits of PCs and NCs.
Gary Bridge, vice president of market intelligence at IBM, told the audience that NCs would mix with existing desktop technology, not replace it. He said IBM had evaluated the NetPC concept but decided not to manufacture them.
"Between the network computer and the PC is the valley of the shadow of death product. The NetPC is a dead end and it's certainly not because we can't build one - anybody can build one," said Bridge.
It was an unarguable fact that NCs took less resources and cut the cost of ownership, said Bridge and that companies should be realistic by matching the power and cost of the machine to the task required.
"The advantage of the NC is that you can match the processing power to the load. I don't type at 233MHz," said Bridge.
He said that this would reduce the constant need to upgrade processors, which was why Andy Grove was so paranoid because he understood what the dynamics of the NC could do to the processor business.
He also pointed out that by taking the hard drive out of the desktop you removed the most unreliable component, and removed the need to have the same 100Mbytes of software on every desktop. Finally, as three-quarters of helpdesk calls were related to software problems, using NCs meant the majority could be eliminated by using remote management.p> David Svendsen, Microsoft's UK managing director, said Microsoft believed in the principle but fundamentally disagreed with the NC model.
"With the NC you have to throw out all your existing computers and software to get the benefits," he said.
Svendsen also criticised NC vendors for claiming NCs were an open solution when they were not yet compatible with each other and Java had yet to prove it could achieve its goal of write once, run anywhere. Instead, he said companies should stay with the PC or consider using Windows NT's new Hydra functionality to run Windows terminals.
Sun Microsystems' vice president Robert Youngjohns admitted that Java still needed further work before it would be truly cross-platform but that it was an achievable goal and being pursued by all but one of the Java licensees.
Compaq's chief executive Eckhard Pfeiffer seemed to shy away from the debate and instead talked about Compaq's predicted revenue figures.
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