Microsoft chairman Bill Gates has raised some eyebrows by declaring his support for a thin-client architecture that is skinnier than its rival, the network computer (NC).
Gates told attendees at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference that putting any type of system software on a thin client defeats the purpose of a low-cost, low-maintenance machine because that software will have to be upgraded over the life of the device.
"Anything that has to change every three years is not a thin client," said Gates, adding that Microsoft's Windows terminal is "the only true thin client" because it requires no client-side system software.
The proposed Windows terminal, stripped-down desktop hardware that Microsoft has yet to set specifications or raise industry support for, will not run any operating system software. Instead, the terminal will receive only screen images of Windows applications running on a multiuser version of Windows NT Server, code-named Hydra.
The "video protocol" enabling the Windows screens to be sent from NT Server to the Windows terminal has not been defined either. It is unclear whether it will be a proprietary protocol that works only with Hydra or one that supports other multiuser NT systems such as Citrix Systems' WinFrame.
Gates said the Windows terminal will be a "task-based device," giving traditional dumb terminal users a view of only applications they need.
Angel Cortez, a systems engineer with national retailer Nordstrom Inc., is concerned about Windows terminals supporting access to NT applications only. "They won't take off if Microsoft expects us to rewrite our mainframe applications for NT in order to use them," Cortez says.
Other users fear their networks will be taxed by the transmission of the Windows screens from NT Server to the Windows terminal.
"What kind of hit is my network going to take with all of these video streams tying up the wire?" says Rick Shope, manager of PC technology at NationsBanc-CRT in Chicago.
Windows product manager Phil Holden says Microsoft is investigating low-cost alternatives to forcing users to buy new hardware, such as altering low-end PCs to act as Windows terminals.
Microsoft officials will not say when they expect Windows terminals to hit the market.