Microsoft, Intel ready thin servers

Is Microsoft feeling the cold breath of the Linux operating system's penguin mascot on its corporate neck? At the recent Windows Hardware Engineering Conference, Microsoft and Intel demonstrated a prototype of what they call a "server appliance" that is aimed squarely at a growing market dominated by boxes running Linux and (often) non-Intel processors.

Thin servers are special-purpose servers designed for handling common network chores such as providing shared Internet access and e-mail, simple intranet functions, or even a low-volume public Web site. They've become popular because they're relatively inexpensive and easy to install. Usually, all you do is plug in a network cable, AC power, and perhaps a telephone line, and then do a small amount of set-up.

Thin servers are usually sealed boxes with a processor, hard drive, and some memory. And most run Linux or a Unix variant. But users don't need to deal with the intricacies of the operating system; they interact with thin servers using a Web browser.

As is often the case with early Microsoft announcements, details are about as thin as the server, but Intel and Microsoft did say they expect major PC manufacturers, so far unnamed, to be shipping the server appliances by the second half of this year. Some analysts, however, say that volume deliveries probably won't arrive until next year.

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