While the often talked about but seldom seen network computer is to be shown at Oracle's OpenWorld user conference in San Francisco next month, users are crying that the NC is missing an essential component: PC interoperability.
At the Network Computer Pavilion at OpenWorld, Sun, Network Computer and NChannel will be demonstrating NC prototypes and announcing delivery dates, according to Acorn officials. Network Computer is also expected to talk about some future NC software developments that will offer the ability to turn smart telephones into NCs, build NC capabilities into embedded systems and use "follow-me" NC telephone applications, according to sources close to Oracle.
Network Computer and Acorn are also currently working on variable bit-rate codex software, that will enable users to download graphics regardless of the network speed, and an NC reference design that will run on current PCs. "NC software on a PC is not available now," says Malcolm Bird, CEO of Acorn's network computing division. "But it certainly will be next year."
This ability to access PC applications from an NC is essential to the success of the platform, according to many users. "We're using Wyse terminals because they are here and they can run Windows and Windows NT sessions at a fraction of the cost of ownership of a Windows NT system," says Neal Carter, systems manager at PolyCo, a retail distributor based in London.
Peter Watkins, technology strategic planning manager with the Provincial Government of British Columbia in Victoria, Canada also needs a hybrid NC and PC environment. "We have been using a Citrix solution to dust off some old 386 PCs and run Windows NT sessions on them," says Watkins. "However, what we really need now is a Java-enabled Citrix client. That is the missing link."
Sybase cofounder and client/server evangelist Bob Epstein agrees. "The problem that Oracle has is that for this type of architecture you need to be able to access any data with tools that are vendor independent. Otherwise what is open about it?" he says.
As long as Citrix is tightlipped about its plans to include a Java-enabled version of its ICA client software, and Network Computer and Acorn are silent about a delivery date for PC-enabled NC software, the vast majority of corporate systems managers will have to hang on and wait, according to Watkins.