December 16, 1996 10 AM ET

Startup's desktop device spans Wintel, NC worlds
By Norvin Leach

  A French startup has created a desktop device that bridges the Wintel and network computer worlds via a ROM-based version of Windows NT.

The computer, from Advanced PC Technologies SA, can run both the operating system and applications from a CD-ROM or digital videodisk drive using VenturCom Inc.'s embedded Windows NT technology. It also can run applications downloaded from a remote server in the same fashion as a Java-based network computer.

Called the NPC, the device meets the NC Reference Profile specifications laid out by Oracle Corp. and its partners, but it runs Windows NT applications on Intel Corp. Pentium processors, company officials said. Advanced PC Technologies is the first company claiming to bridge NT and the NC.

The Bievres, France, company is negotiating with hardware vendors--including Groupe Dassault, a French manufacturer that has invested in Advanced PC Technologies--to manufacture the device, according to Alain Schwartzmann, the company's vice president of marketing.

The prototype for the NPC includes 16M bytes of RAM, flash ROM and electronically erasable programmable ROM for storing local data and configurations, and a smart card reader for security.

Schwartzmann said that basing all the software on removable media, rather than on a fixed hard disk, makes the machines more flexible. "You can use the same workstation for totally different purposes, depending on what's on the CD," he said. "The user can call on the server or run applications only on the CD."

Advanced PC Technologies chose Wintel rather than the Java approach because of its market dominance.

"Of the millions of PCs in the world, 80 percent of them are Wintel," Schwartzmann said. "So we said, 'Let's make a mutation based on the knowledge of the existing world.' "

Advanced PC Technologies licenses technology from VenturCom that provides a stripped-down version of Windows NT. VenturCom shrinks the operating system by breaking it into component pieces--the kernel and additional modules. Developers choose which modules are appropriate for their applications and install only those.

Scott Miller, an analyst at market researcher Dataquest Inc., in San Jose, Calif., said the usefulness of the device could hinge on its ability to access remote storage.

"I can see cases where you would want to minimize the need for network bandwidth, but I wonder if using NT is overkill, rather than something like Windows CE," Miller said.

While Advanced PC Technologies is examining the possibility of using Microsoft Corp.'s Windows CE operating system, Windows NT is still the first choice because of its widespread acceptance.

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