Sun Microsystems promises to break the $500 (£300) price barrier with its new Java-Stations due in the first quarter of next year. Sun hopes the new pricing could deflect criticism that network computers do less than PCs and cost more.
"The acquisition costs do matter, even though customers interested in network computers are interested in centralised administration," said Steve Tirado, marketing director for Sun's network computing systems. "But they still care about the acquisition price -- it's a psychological thing."
Sun's position differs from IBM's, where network computer division channels director Howie Hunger said that corporate customers care more about cost of ownership. IBM's Network Station 1000 -- the closest hardware to Sun's JavaStation -- currently has a list price of about £700 in the UK. Tirado said 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 software vendors to develop applications for the JavaOS. A new version of that operating system is due within weeks.
In addition to its 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," said Tirado. "With respect to AOL, they're interested in the software model we are using, and we are working to-gether on the back--bone architecture that will be used to deliver services and in-formation 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 showcase customers using the JavaStation. Sun has linked up with systems integrators in retail, finance, health care 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, email the sales-call reporting forms and so on," said Tirado.
"We think this represents the largest opportunity, where you do not want the management nightmares of [a laptop] but you have a rich set of services that changes fast on the back-end. [With Sun's Java-Station] you can get these changes out to your sales reps, and if the appliance breaks you can ship them another one," he added.