IBM unveils PCs for the Net

Big Blue turns out simplified hardware for consumers and business that takes advantage of the Internet

IBM is taking a new look at the PC. The company's Personal Systems Group on Monday announced the NetVista product line, designed with the Internet in mind.

The line includes a number of new PCs and digital devices. The PCs offer new industrial designs, courtesy of the IBM team responsible for ThinkPad notebooks, with matt-black finish and flat-panel displays.

"These are new devices that are designed and optimised for the user who is going to be on a network, such as the Internet," said Ralph Martino, vice president of marketing for the Personal Systems Group.

For consumers, that means the new PCs are also designed to deliver the Internet as easily as possible. The PCs, for example, will come with keyboards that include special page-forward and page-back keys.

IBM will back the new NetVista brand with a $100m (£62m) ad campaign using television, print and online ads.

NetVista has sprung forth from IBM's Edge of Network project. Known as EON, the project's focus is on developing hardware that will easily connect consumers to the Internet. "We've recognised that there is proliferation of devices, and there is an opportunity [to make the devices] come together," said an IBM executive involved in the project.

For most consumers, however, the first NetVista product will be a new PC.

The first of two PCs under the brand will be an all-in-one design, aimed at providing consumers with a cool-looking computer that is also Internet-savvy.

The PC, codenamed Luxor after the Las Vegas hotel, integrates all of its major components into the backside of its 15in. flat panel display. CD-ROM and floppy drives, integrated into the neck that holds up the screen, are hidden from view, but can drop down from below the lower-front edge of the screen. It is a "legacy light" design, which reduces the number of components used for connecting peripheral devices in favour of seven USB ports and two low profile PCI slots. This PC, which will use Intel chips, is expected in May for approximately $2,000 (£1,240).

The PC also has a wireless local area network option for home or small-business users.

NetVista will also target corporations when IBM rolls out a legacy-free PC, codenamed Stardust, later in the second quarter. This PC will eliminate the ISA bus and serial and parallel ports, as well as the floppy drive. Three USB ports will be the primary means of connecting other devices. It will also include a docking cradle for handhelds, such as IBM's Palm OS-based Workpad line. Also included is IBM's embedded security chip.

Far from corporate drab, Stardust looks something like a Sony PlayStation2. But PCs aren't the only focus of EON.

IBM developed the NetVista Internet appliance, codenamed iCruiser, aimed at providing basic Web access as well as custom content. It utilises a Web browser and supports both telephone and broadband Internet access. A mock-up viewed by ZDNet US appeared to have a 10in. flat-panel display.

The device will only be made available through IBM partners. IBM recently inked a deal with Fidelity, which will offer iCruiser to clients.

IBM will also offer, under NetVista, a zero-footprint thin client combining its Network Station Series 2200 thin client device with a flat panel display.

"As we go forward, we'll continue to announce products that will fit under this brand," he said.

However, ThinkPad, Netfinity, Aptiva and PC 300 products will continue to serve their mobile PC, server, consumer desktop and corporate desktop markets, he added.

Depending on the market they are aimed for, NetVista products will be sold direct to customers by IBM or through distribution channels, such as corporate resellers.

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