IBM will introduce a network computer or thin client machine within about a month, at a price of around $700 or a little less, not including the monitor.
The machine, an entry in a new hardware category that the industry has been talking about for some months, will have a PowerPC microprocessor and eight megabytes of memory but no local storage. It will be designed to hook up to a corporate local-area network and provide access to the Internet and/or the corporate intranet, and will download the software it needs to operate from a server when started up.
In a teleconference with industry consultants today, IBM's vice- president of integrated workstation solutions, Jim Gant, said the device will weigh a little less than two pounds and use about as much electricity as a 15-watt light bulb. It will come with a choice of Ethernet or Token Ring network interface, and the basic eight MB of memory will be expandable to 64 MB, he said. The monitor will cost extra, and will need to be at least compatible with the VGA standard.
IBM is developing the system in an project that crosses departmental lines, but is led by the company's server group. Bob Dies, general manager of the AS/400 division, said that is because of the need for close integration of the network computer with the server. The client will work with IBM PC Servers, AS/400s, RS/6000s, and System/390s, Gant said.
The unit will have a PC Card slot, with an option allowing an external diskette drive to be attached.
IBM sees the network computer as a replacement for dumb terminals, of which Gant said there are some 10 to 15 million connected to IBM servers alone. There are about the same number of older personal computers based on 286 and 386 processors, Gant said, and these are also candidates to be replaced by network computers. Gant said IBM's goal is to offer the advantages of non- programmable terminals, such as simplicity and low cost, without their disadvantages, and to combine those benefits with some of those that personal computers offer, such as graphical user interfaces and the ability to connect to multiple servers at the same time.
The computer will come with a popular browser which IBM officials did not name -- Gant said an agreement in principle is in place for the software, which presumably is either Netscape's Navigator or Microsoft's Internet Explorer. It will support Java, the development language created by Sun Microsystems Inc. It will follow a set of general specifications for such computers unveiled by IBM and other vendors in San Francisco in May, according to Gant.
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