Microsoft Corp, having scoffed at the notion of the Network Computer Reference Profile when it was announced back in May, yesterday announced its own version: the NetPC Reference Platform. This one is a bit more specific, requiring an Intel Corp Pentium processor running at 100MHz and up, with at least 16MB RAM, Windows device drivers and support for its so-called plug and play specification, audio, and video capabilities, and so on. What it amounts to is a description of an average Windows-running PC in use today. It calls for one of either an ethernet, token ring, a 28.8Kbps modem, T1 line, ISDN or Asynchronous Transfer Mode connection. The main difference is the inclusion of a machine-readable unique ID for each client, and the ability to wake up the clients from the server. It also calls, somewhat vaguely for minimal user interaction for installing and configuring devices. Initial support came from Intel Corp and Hewlett-Packard Co, which is committed to producing a NetPC some time next year as part of its Vectra family. Others committed to making a machine that differs very little from what they already produce include Compaq, Dell, DEC, Gateway 2000, Packard Bell and Texas Instruments. The whole point of the effort is to supposedly reduce the total cost of ownership of the PC, by persuading PC manufacturers to make another, very similar PC.
Looking ahead, Microsoft also announced something called the Zero Administration initiative, which should cause a few smirks over at Sun Microsystems Inc, which was the first to talk of zero administrationclients. Other features of the initiative include automatic system update and application installation, the ability to reflect users data to a server, which means having stuff stored locally, centrally, or a combination of the two. Also called for is central administration and system lock-down and, drilling down further into Redmond’s announcements, a full implementation of what it calls it’s Active Platform. This comprises the Active Desktop, Active Server and ActiveX. Active Desktop demands language-independent scripting, component integration and support for Microsoft’s so-called dynamic HTML, codenamed Trident, which will first be used in Internet Explorer 4.0. The Active Desktop will be incorporated into the next iterations of Windows 95 and NT. It’s nothing really new, just ActiveX on the desktop.
Microsoft’s platforms group VP Paul Maritz said the difference between the NetPC and an NC was that the NetPC is incompatible with the NC, which we know by now and meantime, Oracle Corp’s senior VP strategic marketing and business development, Karen White was asked if Oracle’s NC specification would be supporting the NetPC in the future. She replied I think not. Oracle was talking up its new strategic alliance with Netscape Communications Corp whereby Netscape Navigator 3.0 will be the exclusive third-party browser with the operating environment on the Intel-based version of Oracle’s NC’s, due some time in the first half of next year. The impact on Netscape’s business is entirely dependent on the NC hardware manufacturers, the names of which Oracle will announce on November 4. Intel added it’s support to the Microsoft NetPC effort, but made no real commitments to anything apart from merely saying that lower cost of ownership was a good idea. The whole thing looked like a last- minute effort, with no surprises in terms of partners and some badly-drawn diagrams used by Maritz in his presentation that showed a typical NetPC box being 3 high, 11 wide and 8.5 deep, with no internal expansion slots, and somewhat confusingly, a 133MHz Pentium chip. It looks like a tacit admission by Microsoft and Intel that Wintel personal computers cost too much to run. Phil Holden, one of Microsoft’s Windows NT workstation and Windows 95 product managers said that wasn’t the case, but that both Microsoft and Intel have been thinking about the cost of ownership for some time now. Confused? We were.
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