Microsoft: backing the NC without actually backing the NC

Microsoft's deal with Citrix, struck this week, to build multiuser capabilities into Windows NT Server is expected to give legs to the company's Windows terminal plans. The arrangement calls for Citrix's WinFrame technology, which lets multiple clients run desktop Windows applications from a single server, to be folded into NT 4.0.

Microsoft's deal with Citrix, struck this week, to build multiuser capabilities into Windows NT Server is expected to give legs to the company's Windows terminal plans.

The arrangement calls for Citrix's WinFrame technology, which lets multiple clients run desktop Windows applications from a single server, to be folded into NT 4.0.

"Microsoft has thrown its weight behind the [multiuser] concept, and the people who have been struggling to educate the industry on this have been given a big amount of support," says analyst Dan Kusnetzky, research director at International Data Corp., referring to Citrix and competitors Exodus, Tektronix, and Insignia.

Microsoft's move marks a big change in strategy, observers say.

"This is Microsoft admitting that NCs [network computers] are a good idea, without actually admitting that NCs are a good idea," says one source close to Microsoft who requested anonymity.

The Windows terminal is another Microsoft answer to the NC: a low-cost terminal that accesses applications from the Internet or local networks. Microsoft argues that the Windows terminal is a better "thin client" than the NC model because it will keep anything that will need maintenance, particularly browsers that require frequent updates and add-on modules, off of the desktop.

As Microsoft's terminal strategy comes into focus, the company also may have found another use for Windows CE.

Paul Maritz, group vice president of applications and systems, says some form of that scaled-down OS for palmtop computers could be burned into the ROM of a terminal.

Microsoft has also announced a partnership with Prologue, whose WiNTimes multiuser software offers capabilities similar to those of Citrix's Intelligent Console Architecture (ICA) technology. MicroICA is the protocol that has been developed by Citrix, and it will be offered for either non-Windows or Windows platforms. Microsoft has not said how it plans to use Prologue's software.

A beta version of an ICA plug-in for NT 4.0, distributed by Citrix, will be available by the end of the year. Microsoft will pay Citrix US$75 million initially, and as much as $100 million additionally, depending on shipments of NT solutions that incorporate the technology, Maritz says.

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