Network computer fails to make waves at Comdex

Network computers, the so-called catalyst for the fourth wave in computing, failed to create much excitement at last week's Comdex.

The network computer (NC) has been the talk of the industry for the last year. But at fall Comdex, the computer industry's biggest show in the United States, the so-called catalyst for the fourth wave in computing failed to create much excitement.

Digital Semiconductor, Wyse Technology, Acorn Computer Group, Cirrus Logic and LG Electronics exhibited their offerings in Las Vegas last week. However, both Cirrus and Digital were displaying the Acorn NetStation and LG's NC was just an empty box.

Meanwhile, Motorola showed off its Internet appliance reference design called WeBRef at the show, but officials would not say that the product would be made to comply to Oracle's NC specification.

Wyse was exhibiting its NC, which is priced at US$699. The product was running a beta version of Sun's Java OS, which was not working.

"This is new software, running on new hardware for a new platform," says David Brooks, vice-president of advanced development for Wyse Technology. "You don't expect it to work, do you?"

Brooks is sceptical about Java as a cure-all to the world's computing needs. "Running Java on its own leaves you stranded," says Brooks. "Really, we need a bridge between Java and Windows before this becomes workable."

Meanwhile, many users have welcomed the entrance of the NC, because it competes with the Microsoft-Intel duopoly.

"Intel and Microsoft have been playing a game with our money," says Ivan Luksic, a systems engineer with the Slovenian-based pharmaceutical company, Krka. "Because the hardware is powerful, Microsoft can write sloppy software that needs more computing power."

Analysts note that the industry's goal is to make NC clients as easy to use as possible, with most devices having few if any exciting features. "It's difficult to become excited about a box that doesn't do anything," says Richard Zwetchkenbaum, director of the new global media consumer research division at market researcher IDC/Link.

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