SCO (Santa Cruz Operation) jumped into the Internet appliance fray this week with its own Unix-based operating system that analysts say will be better for the new devices than proprietary operating systems being developed by rivals. The Network Client Operating System (NC/OS) occupies only 1.5Mb of RAM, includes Netscape Navigator browser software and Java object-oriented programming software and will run on any Intel microprocessor.
"Our solution is built on Unix, and runs with Intel, Netscape and Java -- known standards," says Guy Churchward, the UK-based manager of business development for SCO's embedded systems division. Meanwhile, for its own network computer "Oracle has tailored an operating system and chipset for the job. The gain with that is you get something new and fast, but the loss is there's high risk involved," Churchward says. "If a corporation is buying 3000 of these they want something that's proven already."
Analysts agree. "The NC will be more of an appliance than the traditional PC has been, so the openness, interoperability and the ability to make them cheap and reliable is important," says Stan Lepeak of Meta Group in Stamford, Connecticut. "The real value is that they're going to be a ubiquitous item that you'll have in every hotel room, office," he says. "So the openness is more critical to their becoming accepted and widespread in the real world."
Allowing the operating system to run on existing microprocessors that are shipping in volumes is another advantage, according to Rob Enderle of Giga Information Group in Santa Clara, California. The competing network computer designs have "no volumes, no manufacturing model and come from companies that typically don't do well in low-cost, high-volume markets," such as Oracle, IBM, and Sun, he says.
Associating with Intel also lends credibility to the product, Enderle says. "This gives SCO an argument the other players don't have."
About a handful of OEMs are looking at making network appliances using SCO's NC/OS, including possibly Unisys, a SCO spokesman says. Announcements and even products are expected to come by the end of September. The target market for the devices is corporate intranet users, according to Churchward. "We're looking at X terminals, Motif applications and Internet applications such as email and news," he says.
"Corporations are now looking at the fact that speed of access to information is critical," Churchward says. "The classical NC is aiming toward the set-top TV ... but until we get into volume on video-on-demand worldwide, that market will be difficult" to reach.
Because the corporate needs don't necessarily include a big screen, speakers and microphones, like home users are demanding, "a street price of US$750 wouldn't be a problem to obtain", he says.
Both Unisys and Netscape Communications have lent their support to SCO's announcement. "Unisys supports SCO's NC/OS product announcement as it demonstrates the viability for Unix-based solutions to enter emerging markets, allowing us to efficiently take advantage of new opportunities in the Intel space," says Frank Brandenberg, group vice-president and general manager for Unisys' personal computer division.
"Together with SCO and Intel, we will help to develop open, standards-based NCs, applications and content while ensuring their compatibility within the existing information infrastructure," says Mike Homer, senior vice-president of marketing at Netscape.
SCO will preview its NC/OS at its SCO Forum next week. The company can be reached on the World Wide Web at http://www.sco.com.