US Report: Don't pull the NC plug yet

Sun Microsystems Inc. promises to break the $500 (£300) price barrier with new JavaStations due around the first quarter of next year.

Sun is hoping the new pricing could deflect criticism that while network computers cost more than PCs, they do less. "Acquisition cost does matter, even though customers interested in Network Computers are interested in centralised administration. But they still care about the acquisition price--it's a psychological thing," says Steve Tirado, marketing director for Sun's Network Computing Systems.

Sun's position is contrary to IBM, where Network Computer Division channels director Howie Hunger claims that corporate customers care more about cost of ownership. IBM's Network Station 1000--the closest hardware to Sun's JavaStation--currently lists at around $1,000 (£600).

Sun also says that unlike IBM, it is still in the Network Computer business. In fact, Tirado says, Sun is working closely with IBM's software division on the JavaOS for Business and JavaOS applications. IBM has expanded its San Francisco Project-a set of Java-based application frameworks-to recruit ISVs to develop applications for the JavaOS. A new version of that operating system is due within weeks.

In addition to its recent deal with AOL and Netscape in which Sun and AOL will sell Netscape e-commerce software and collaborate on Java-based Internet devices--Sun is working with SAP on an SAP Station. "We're waiting for them to conclude their Java development and there will be an SAP Graphical User Interface," Tirado says. "With respect to AOL, they're interested in the software model we're using, and we're working vigorously together around the backbone architecture that will be used to deliver services and information out to the AOL client base. It's a very strong message about the importance of Java and the Internet."

Sun is currently focusing on "design wins" with the JavaStation and has partnered with systems integrators in retail, finance, healthcare and other vertical markets. It has also begun discussing the "network business appliance," a JavaStation used by companies that have to distribute information across wide areas.

"We have a pharmaceutical company in Italy that has put appliances in the sales reps' homes, where they can download their application environment, e-mail, the sales call reporting form and so on," says Tirado. "We think this represents the largest opportunity, where you don't want the management nightmares of [a laptop] but you have a rich set of services that changes quickly on the back end, and you can get these changes to the sales reps, and if the appliance breaks you can ship them another one."

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