Microsoft's multiuser version of Windows NT, formerly code-named Hydra and now called Windows Terminal Server (WTS), will be launched this April as part of a hardware product blitz that will include Citrix Systems' Picasso software and several Windows-based terminals.
According to industry sources, a joint announcement on April 13 will finally make the much-hyped Microsoft terminal strategy a reality. Although most IT managers are clear on the usefulness of WTS, they are not as clear on why they need Microsoft's Windows CE-based software.
"We use Citrix WinFrame running on PCs right now," said Eric Kuzmack, a senior analyst at a Fortune 250 publishing company. "Windows-based terminals have no appeal to me, especially with PC manufacturers dropping PC prices so rapidly. But we are looking forward to Hydra, so we can have the NT 4.0 GUI rather than that of Windows 3.1."
WinFrame users have had to wait for the NT 4.0 interface because Microsoft denied Citrix the code for the NT 4.0 interface in 1997, choosing instead to work with the company to incorporate its multiuser technology into the April release of WTS.
But the new arrangement, dubbed "co-opetition" by one Citrix official, presents a confusing array of options for IT managers.
WTS, although offering current WinFrame users the critical NT 4.0 GUI, will only come with Microsoft's proprietary protocol called Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), according to John Frederickson, group product manager at Microsoft. If IT managers want to use the Independent Computing Architecture (ICA) protocol currently used in WinFrame solutions, they will have to buy an add-on from Citrix, called Picasso, which will also allow Macintoshes and Unix machines access to the server.
Pricing remains a crucial unknown in the multiuser WTS world, although Microsoft has made it clear that if you use RDP as your protocol, you will be paying less than if you use ICA, which requires the purchase of Picasso.
One terminal OEM did not have to look far for the purpose of that arrangement.
"Microsoft is not in the business of keeping Citrix in business," said a Web-based terminal (WBT) maker who wished to remain nameless.
As a result, Microsoft has anticipated the multiuser Windows market to split into two types of terminals: the Pure ICA client and the WinCE-based client. Some current machines, such as Wyse's WinTerm, allow the user to own an ICA client now and upgrade it to a WBT via software if they so desire.
The advantages of an ICA client are that it will be less expensive, more widely used, and support sound, one terminal vendor said. The advantage of Microsoft's RDP is that, in conjunction with a Windows client, it can simultaneously access multiple servers.
However, some IT managers do not seem that eager for an all-Microsoft solution.
"It doesn't increase my chances of buying it just because it's Microsoft," Kuzmack said. "I view all thin clients in one big pool."