November 25, 1996 10 AM ET

IBM and Microsoft-Intel heat up thin-client race
IBM to ship its first notebook NC

By Lisa Dicarlo

  LAS VEGAS -- As IBM readies its second-generation Java-based network computer, Microsoft Corp. and Intel Corp. are offstage, writing the opening act of their own network-centric computing platform.

IBM, which showed its recently announced $799 Network Station desktop client at Comdex here last week, plans to ship in the first quarter of 1997 its first notebook NC, dubbed Think Client, sources close to the Armonk, N.Y., company said.

The portable device functions like its desktop NC equivalent, retrieving Java-based data from a server through a Windows 95 or OS/2 interface, sources said. It will have a small hard drive and minimal RAM.

The first implementation will feature integrated Token-Ring networking; Ethernet will follow in the second quarter, sources said. The form factor is identical to the PowerPC-based ThinkPad 850, which has rounded corners and a wide palmrest.

Officials would not provide further details, but they said the company plans to release a range of NC systems, from handhelds to desktops to consumer devices.

"We're looking at a massive explosion for different types of [NC] devices," said Ozzie Osborne, vice president of systems strategy at IBM Personal Computer Co., in Somers, N.Y.

In addition to its NC and Java efforts, IBM will release a product based on the NetPC design from Microsoft and Intel, said Rod Adkins, vice president and general manager of IBM's commercial desktop division.

Intel and Microsoft will introduce early next year Version 1.0 of the NetPC specification that encompasses instrumented motherboards, DMI (Desktop Management Interface)-based management software, such as Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, and standard-size components, Intel officials said.

Intel is looking to standardize the first NetPC hardware designs with slimmed-down motherboards and chassis that will be used by OEMs next year, said Pat Gelsinger, vice president of Intel's Desktop Products Group, in Santa Clara, Calif.

NetPCs will be available with all Intel's processor iterations, as it is designing the motherboard to accommodate Pentium, Pentium Pro, P55C and Klamath CPUs.

The boards will include no more than one expansion slot and instrumentation for monitoring crucial components. It will be housed in a small-form-factor chassis developed by Intel, Gelsinger said.

To help manage the forthcoming hardware, Intel is striking deals with IBM, Hewlett-Packard Co. and Compaq Computer Corp. to plug their respective NetFinity, OpenView and Insight Manager applications into Intel's LANDesk Client Manager, which will reside on the NetPCs, he said.

Those efforts will coincide with the DMI 2.0 spec release, which will let administrators remotely collect Windows data using standard SNMP agents and protocols.

The setup will let IS administrators remotely configure, boot and manage heterogeneous NetPCs over a network and, eventually, the Internet. "The [NetPC] means nothing without the software," Gelsinger said.

"I don't know if [NetPC] will lower the cost of ownership, but it's too cool not to look at," said Steve Graessle, procurement manager for Trans World Airlines, in Kansas City, Mo.

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