Network computers could be the future

The data warehouse industry's move to the Internet will push the network computer into popularity and on to desktops everywhere in three years, according to database guru Richard Finkelstein.

The keynote address at last week's DCI Data Warehouse World in New York threw fuel on an already fiery debate concerning the growth of the emerging class of so-called network computers in a PC-dominated industry. The data warehouse industry's move to the Internet will push the network computer into popularity and on to desktops everywhere in three years, according to Richard Finkelstein, a high-profile database analyst and consultant.

"It's the time of the network computer. I'm talking about putting access everywhere. There's no Windows training needed, and you don't have to worry about all that software on every desktop," says Finkelstein. "Within three years, you'll see network computers everywhere. It's definitely the next move in the industry."

With a company's information warehoused on the Internet or an intranet, users will need only a browser to access information that includes sales, trends, personnel and stocks, Finkelstein says. Network computers were designed to display information transferred over intranets or the Internet, without the desktop application capabilities of PCs.

By adding a few basic word processing or spreadsheet applications to the network computer, workers would have all the access they need at about US$400 or US$500 per computer, compared with PCs, which can cost several thousand dollars, Finkelstein says. He says that once those applications are available on the World Wide Web, they won't need to be installed on network computers.

But not everyone is convinced. For network computers to boom into the market, the Internet has to be the next great wave in data warehousing. One voice that disputed that notion belonged to Brian Murphy, an analyst at The Yankee Group in Boston and an attendee at DCI Data Warehouse World. "The existing network infrastructures can do more than the Internet with fancier graphics, better tables and reports, faster access to more data sources," he says. "Working through a browser is an incredibly constipated way to move through data."

Pro-network computer arguments include the following:

* Network computers generally cost less than PCs, which are about US$500 to US$1000.

* With Internet-based data warehouses, the number of potential users balloons, making the cheaper network computers easier on corporate wallets.

* Network computers would largely eliminate the need to administer software on every desktop, shifting such tasks to the server and reducing IS expense and workload.

Pro-PC arguments include the following:

* Network computers take computing and data control away from the individual.

* PC prices are falling to less than US$1000, taking a bite out of the argument that network computers are the cheaper answer to computing needs.

* PCs are multifaceted, letting a user do many tasks, whereas network computers were primarily designed to access the Web.

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