IBM is expected to add a high-end model to its family of network stations later in the year when it rolls out a system anchored by at least a 200-MHz 603e chip that will also feature support for a smart card.
The upcoming system, with pricing expected to start at about US$1000, figures to compete with a number of systems coming to market around the same time, including one from Corel that is expected to use Digital's StrongArm processor along with video compression to accommodate a variety of multimedia applications.
It remains unclear which operating system the IBM unit will use. Presently, the low-end IBM NetStation uses the kernel of Microware's OS-9 and contains the Java virtual machine. The company may stick with that kernel, which features only a rudimentary operating system that simply assists with the booting up of the client and offers connections to a number of IBM host systems.
IBM is still evaluating the relative merits of JavaSoft's JavaOS for its line of network computers. However, sources said company officials will not offer the operating system until it can overcome a number of "technical shortcomings."
"The preference right now is to stay with OS-9," says one source close to the company, indicating that the current version of JavaOS is not a finished product.
The new high-end system will not replace the existing NetStation, which is now priced at about $795. IBM officials said that the system's delivery should reduce prices on the existing system later this year but declined to say by how much.
IBM has been showing off prototype versions of the upcoming network system with a number of shows earlier this year, such as CeBit and its own IBM Business Partners show. As part of those demonstrations, officials showed how the unit could work with a number of server-based Lotus productivity applets written in Java, code-named Kona.
Although IBM research officials say they are working on accelerator chips that speed the performance of Java, the network computer to be delivered this fall will not contain those chips or similar chips.
"We are working on things like accelerator chips and just-in-time compilers, but for now those fall into the range of future technologies," a company representative says.