Windows-based Terminals Make Splashy Debut

NEW YORK -- At last, the Windows-based terminal (WBT) concept has been officially endorsed by Microsoft Corp. At PC Expo in New York last month, Microsoft unveiled its Windows Terminal Server product (formerly called Hydra), and an entire industry has sprung into action to support Terminal Server. A number of terminal makers unveiled a new generation of WBTs, which support Terminal Server and run Windows CE 2.1 at the client level.

Recent WBT announcements were made by Network Computing Devices Inc. (NCD, Mountain View, Calif., www.ncd.com), Wyse Technology Inc. (San Jose, Calif., www.wyse.com), Boundless Technologies Inc. (New York, www.boundless.com) and Affinity Systems (Lansdale, Pa., www.affinity.com).

Notable among the flurry of announcements was NCD's ThinStar line of WBTs, which includes one of the first "lean clients" based on specifications from Intel Corp. The NCD ThinStar terminal products also are among the first to run Microsoft Windows CE. "We believe that Windows CE is the platform for the future in embedded systems," says Jim Fulton, vice president of product management for NCD.

The ThinStar terminals also include Windows NT-based connectivity software products and consulting services. "It's not just a box or hardware product. It's a software product that comes wrapped in silicon plastic," says Fulton. Along with Windows CE software, the terminal includes 3270, 5250 and VT100 terminal emulation packages, from both NCD's own Connectivity Suite and from Wall Data (Kirkland, Wash., www.walldata.com).

NCD's terminals serve as both direct-attach terminal replacements for large legacy systems and as PC-style environments that access Windows NT Terminal Server Edition. NCD’s products also support use of MetaFrame and WinFrame thin client software from Citrix Systems Inc.

The NCD ThinStar 300 line, powered by a 133-MHz Pentium processor, is one of the first to be based on Intel's Lean Client initiative and can be managed through Intel network technology. The 300 model will be generally available by fourth quarter of 1998. The NCD ThinStar 200 runs on a 100-MHz Mips processor, and is expected to become available this quarter. Both terminals include 8 MB of RAM, expandable to 32 MB.

NCD shipped 1,000 terminals to early customers at this announcement, and the company claims that “tens of thousands” more will go out by midsummer.

Early adopters cite ease of deployment as the one of the more readily apparent advantages of NCD's terminals. Montgomery Ward's IT department found ThinStar to be "easy to install, and it just works," relates Morton Mease, director of planning and technology for Montgomery Ward. Oscar L. Smith, president and CEO of UCSI, a value-added distributor based in Kansas City, notes that ThinStar provides his resellers "with an easy-to-implement thin client solution."

Thin clients and terminals are a solution more suited to transactional workers as opposed to power users or IS professionals who need desktop computing power, says Dan Kusnetzky, director of operating environments and serverware programs for International Data Corp. (Framingham, Mass.). NCD's approach is "focusing on giving the transactional worker access both to enterprise transactional software and Windows NT-based personal productivity software, without forcing them to become system administrators in the process," says Kusnetzky. "This approach is very likely to reduce administrative costs when compared to the 'PC for everyone' approach."

The entire PC market has "changed a lot with the advent of the Internet," agrees Rob Enderle, analyst with Giga Information Group (Norwell, Mass.). Developments with thin clients, along with TCO advantages, are steering the market away from what were ever-growing high-end PC-based workstations.