Low-priced PCs threaten impact of Sun network computer launch

Low-priced PCs threaten impact of Sun network computer launchSun Microsystems in March, introduced its long awaited JavaStation network computer (NC). But the momentum behind NCs is slowing as cheap PCs take away some of the reasons corporations might consider for deploying NCs, writes Tom Foremski.
The JavaStation has been delayed several times since it was first announced more than 18 months ago. It will cost about $999 but faces competition from low-priced PCs. Sun hopes to find buyers interested in cutting PC administration costs.
Part of the delay to JavaStation has been related to problems in finishing the JavaOS operating system for network computers. Earlier this year, Sun enlisted help from IBM in finishing the JavaOS. But Sun also needs to finish development of software that will allow JavaStations to be used with Windows NT servers.
Sun has good brand recognition when its comes to network computers according to US market research firm International Data Corporation (IDC). In a recent survey, IBM, Sun and Hewlett-Packard have the highest brand name recognition when it comes to NCs aimed at enterprise markets. In the first survey of its kind, 46 per cent of 260 customer sites named IBM as their top pick when considering NCs. Sun’s JavaStation and Hewlett-Packard’s NCs were ranked second and third.
But brand recognition does not necessarily mean improved sales of NCs, with IDC saying there is considerable market confusion over what is an NC, saying that 25 per cent of those surveyed thought a networked PC was an NC.
“Future purchase plans of NCs show them diffusing slowly through enterprises. This could change if NC vendors take pro-active steps to help users realise what an NC is and why they need one,” said Eileen O’Brien, senior analyst at IDC.
JavaStation is closely tied with Java, which offers software developers a write-once strategy for different hardware platforms. But Java use among NC buyers is not considered a major factor in deploying NCs, which could pose problems for the JavaStation. IDC finds that only 25 per cent of companies using NCs cited Java as a key reason for installing NCs, while 34 per cent said that Java was not a factor in their purchase decision.
Federal Express, which plans to install as many as 75,000 NCs over the next three years, has been moving away from Java based NCs in favour of cheap PCs that can run Windows. It is considering using cheap PCs in an NC role because of their compatibility with thousands of Windows applications and new software coming from Microsoft that supports Windows-based thin client systems such as Windows Terminal Server NT server software.


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