When Microsoft Corp first announced its NetPC Reference Platform last October, in reaction to all the talk from its rivals about Network Computers (CI No 3,032) it was somewhat hard to tell its rather vague specification from those of a standard Windows personal computer. Yesterday, the company released the official specification, saying it was intended for broad industry review. Any objections, however, will have to be filed fast, because Microsoft expects the first product announcements from PC manufacturers within the next 90 days. The haste, of course, is only possible because the specification is so close to the systems those manufacturers are already offering. NetPC requirements include a 133MHz Pentium processor or equivalent, 16Mb RAM, Universal Serial Bus with a least one USB port, and a SMART-compliant hard drive. Full guidelines can be downloaded from www.microsoft.com/hwdev/pc97.htm. The primary difference between a PC and a NetPC will be the management software, and the sealed-case design with no ISA slots. All hardware devices can be recognized and managed by the software, there are remote management and configuration tools, and facilities for updating in off-hour periods. The aim is to cut down administration costs and increase security. Intel Corp worked with Microsoft on the managability software, while Compaq Computer Corp, Dell Computer Corp and Hewlett-Packard Co helped with reference specification itself, so expect them to be amongst the first with product. Another 100 or so PC manufactures are also supporting the effort. For those who want the software but not the restricted hardware, Microsoft will be offering a Zero Administration Kit for Windows NT Workstation 4.0, also within the next 90 days, and it expects PC manufacturers to begin bundling it with their standard products. The kit includes centralized configuration, a security system preventing local access to the desktop computer, and configuration software to load applications from the network. Meanwhile, NetPCs will include entry-level systems starting below the $1,000 price point – just like PCs.