June 7, 1996 2:00 PM PDT

First NC sales slated for this month

HDS Network Systems says it's set this month to become the first vendor out of the gate with a commercially available device based on Oracle's Network Computer Reference Profile.

The $750 HDS @workStation is set to ship by the end of June. The company is hoping to out-distance the competition by being the first and by offering access to Windows, Unix, and legacy applications.

Wyse Technology, however, is in fact running neck and neck with HDS with an Internet-ready version of its Winterm "dumb terminal" due this month. Wyse also plans to announce deals with at least three still-unnamed Internet service providers that will give users the option of renting Windows applications on the ISP's server, as well as storing their work with the service provider. The application would not be downloaded to the subscriber's terminal but will execute on the server.

Although the HDS @workStation is priced higher than the magic $500 pricetag that Oracle has made the goal of NC manufacturing costs, HDS doesn't think that a single-function Internet appliance is practical; so the company decided to add access to applications to make its NC more attractive to business users.

The base configuration includes 4MB of RAM, the HDS netOS operating system, keyboard, mouse, a 17-inch gray-scale monitor, Ethernet, one serial port, and a parallel port. For an additional $600, users can purchase a suite of multimedia options, including full-motion video and stereo sound.

The HDS and Wyse devices may be the first opportunity for consumers to examine the new breed of Network Computers, but there should be several more by the end of the year. SunRiver Data Systems, IBM, Acorn Computer, and Akai have all said they plan to ship NC devices in the second half of the year.

No matter how many hit the market by Christmas, some analysts say the market won't heat up until there are applications for them. "It's a chicken and egg situation. There are a couple of things that need to be delivered before the NC takes off," said Giga Information Group analyst Chip Gliedman. says. "Right now there are really still no useful Java applications to run on them."

But Gliedman believes there will be a market for the NC in a year or so, mostly because of the lower maintenance costs associated with NCs. HDS estimates that the cost of owning an @workStation over a 5-year period will be between $5,000 and $8,000. The Gartner Group, a computer industry consulting firm, estimates the cost of owning a PC for the same period of time to be over $40,000.

Related stories:
Windows time-sharing planned for Net
Corel to make Net boxes work more
NC makers disclosed but buyers aren't
Oracle gets NC religion
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