Microsoft to unveil PC '99 spec at WinHEC

Microsoft will this week share its vision of what PCs will look like in the year 2000 when it unveils the next version of its proposed design guidelines at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in Orlando, Florida. Minimum requirements will include a 300MHz Pentium II chip with Intel's MMX technology or equivalent and 32Mb RAM. PC '99 also recommends that PC makers move from CD-ROM to DVD-ROM and requires they drop ISA expansion slots. But one client-type may be left out of the picture: the NetPC.

Microsoft will this week share its vision of what PCs will look like in the year 2000 when it unveils the next version of its proposed design guidelines at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in Orlando, Florida.

According to a draft of PC '99, minimum requirements will include a 300MHz Pentium II chip with Intel's MMX technology or the equivalent and 32Mb of system memory, although 64Mb is recommended. PC '99, which has an April 6 deadline for initial feedback, also recommends that PC makers move from CD-ROM to DVD-ROM and requires they drop ISA expansion slots. PC '99 also will dictate further use of the OnNow PC power management initiative.

But although Microsoft is revealing hardware engineers' future guidelines for next-generation PCs, one client-type may be left out of the picture: the NetPC.

Microsoft's NetPC message is mixed: The company credits the recent advancements in PC manageability and total cost of ownership (TCO) to the NetPC, a design unveiled in October 1996 as an alternative to the Java-fueled Network Computer pushed by Oracle and others. But the integration of manageability and TCO initiatives into mainstream PCs -- further encouraged in the PC '99 specification -- coupled with plummeting PC prices have made the NetPC irrelevant in the eyes of many.

John Frederiksen, lead product manager for Microsoft's thin-client Windows Terminal Server, recently acknowledged that, "as a specific hardware device, the NetPC will be phased out by the PC '98 device."

Essentially, the only difference between a "managed PC" and a NetPC is the sealed chassis, said Michael Takemura, desktop marketing director at Compaq, the first of a handful of OEMs to ship NetPCs.

"We will continue to support the NetPC definition of the sealed chassis for those customers that need them," Takemura said. "Many of our customers may look at the sub-$1000 managed PCs as an alternative."

Also at WinHEC, chip makers IDT, Cyrix, and Advanced Micro Devices will outline their strategies that back AMD's new multimedia and floating point instruction set, code-name AMD 3D Technology, which adds about 21 instructions to x86 technology, one AMD official said. The K6AMD3D processor using the new instructions is expected in the second quarter. Also, AMD is developing 100MHz bus technology, as well as integrated Level 2 cache, that will be demonstrated at Microsoft's show, the official said.

SIDEBAR: A Bumpy Road for NetPCs

By InfoWorld staff

-- October 1996 Microsoft, Intel announce specification for NetPCs

-- June 1997 Specification released, vendors demo NetPCs at PC Expo

-- July 1997 IDC dismisses NetPC as marketing ploy

-- September 1997 IBM scraps plans to build NetPCs

-- September 1997 Compaq ships first NetPC, Deskpro 4000N.

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