IBM is working on a device--code-named Bronco--that will allow "Internet surfing at TV speed", in the words of personal software products division head John W Thompson.
Thompson, who led Bronco into the ring for the first time during a fleeting visit to New Zealand this week, describes the technology as "PC-TV". He says a first version has been built, trials will begin in the fourth quarter and the system will become commercially available in in the first quarter next year.
"We have a technology partner, a distribution partner and a hardware partner" for Bronco, says Thompson, who hinted that the product would make its first public appearance at Fall Comdex in Las Vegas.
He wouldn't reveal IBM's Bronco partners nor how the device will achieve "TV speed" as an Internet client, but says the key lies in the caching technology used.
Until now, IBM's only known involvement with "thin" clients has been as a founding member of the network computer alliance, formed with Oracle, Netscape, Sun and Apple. It is not alone in attempting to bring the Internet to television: Californian company WebTV Networks said earlier this month that it will begin selling a US$200 product in the US autumn that will enable Web browsing on a TV.
Also coming from IBM at Comdex, says Thompson, is a pack of Java-based applets, including a calculator and word processor, that will work with the run-time version of Java that is an unsung feature of the Merlin release of OS/2, due in September.
While Merlin's speech recognition capabilities have caught the eye of beta reviewers, the incorporation of run-time Java is undoubtedly the more significant addition to the operating system. (That's especially so when at a demonstration of the speech recognition feature in Auckland this week, Merlin misheard "an example of" as "an insult O".)
Merlin will come with a built-in Java developers kit and will allow Java applications to run "with the integrity, reliability and security" of the operating system, according to IBM.
Without promising it in the September Merlin release, Thompson also says by the end of the year OS/2 will run Netscape's Navigator 2 Internet browser natively. Next year, he says, Netscape 3 will be incorporated in the operating system.