PC Expo: Net PC positioning fragmented

The battle between the Java-based Network Computer (NC) and the Wintel Net PC is hotting up again, with a major launch for the latter this week at summer's annual computing fest in New York, PC Expo. However, the key proponents of the Net PC are offering different reasons for its likely success, leaving buyers less than clear on its positioning.

The battle between the Java-based Network Computer (NC) and the Wintel Net PC is hotting up again, with a major launch for the latter this week at summer's annual computing fest in New York, PC Expo. However, the key proponents of the Net PC are offering different reasons for its likely success, leaving buyers less than clear on its positioning. And one of the industry personalities of the moment, chairman and CEO of Dell Computer Corporation Michael Dell, confused matters further by suggesting that buyers may not want to trade the flexibility of traditional PCs to get better central management.

Among the manufacturers showing Net PCs at the Jacob K Javits Convention Center in Manhattan are Dell, Gateway, IBM, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard and Mitsubishi. Although most of these companies won't be shipping products until well into the third quarter of 1997, it's clear that prices are likely to be only marginally less than similarly specified desktops in their existing product ranges. Plainly, purchase price will not be a key reason to opt for the Net PC solution.

Instead, manufacturers cite reasons such as manageability, reduced cost of ownership and the small form factor as attractions of the Net PC. However, not all the models on show are particularly small - indeed, some, such as the Gateway, are no smaller than so-called pizza-box PCs available today. And the likely specifications of the upcoming machines won't offer a clue either: typical specifications at launch will range right from 166MHz Pentiums to the fastest Pentium II processors.

Michael Dell's surprising comment came at the end of one of the most amusing keynote presentations to be seen at a major computing event for some time. Despite confirming that Dell would be offering a range of Net PCs later this year, he seemed less bullish than most manufacturers in this camp about its potential adoption, appearing to suggest instead that building management features into a broad range of PC offerings was a key goal.

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