Affinity Shifts From NC to eWBT

The introduction of Affinity Systems’ (Lansdale, Pa.) Visara Enterprise Windows Based Terminal (eWBT) represents a refocusing of the company’s thin-client efforts. One of the first to offer a true Network Computer (NC) to the AS/400 market, Affinity has shifted its thin client architecture to a centrally-managed device that includes flash memory on the desktop, enabling simultaneous access to multiple host systems, Windows applications, the Internet or a corporate intranet.

The Visara eWBT – about the size of a VHS video cassette case – combines Affinity Systems’ host connectivity solutions in the midrange 5250 and mainframe 3270 markets with PC application compatibility and thin-client/server technology. The eWBT differs from the original Visara NC primarily because the Windows terminal features a local operating system that boots from a flash memory unit contained within the desktop device.

Windows CE is the desktop operating system that makes the Windows Based Terminal possible. "Windows CE is finding its way into a lot of different devices," says Bill McCurdie, national sales manager for Affinity Systems. For the eWBT, Windows CE is installed in the flash memory directly on the unit. The desktop then interfaces with NT installed on the host server, which can be an AS/400 running NT on the IPCS.

EWBT users can bypass their NT server if they choose, and go directly to a green-screen interface. When Windows CE is not installed in the flash memory, the device can be connected to a host via TN5250 and used as a terminal, much like an NC.

The most important aspect of this announcement for AS/400 users is they can continue to access legacy applications through the eWBT, according to McCurdie. "Green-screen users do not have to be isolated from Windows capabilities," he says. AS/400 users can also multi-session, using the eWBT as either a traditional terminal or a Windows terminal.

The key to the eWBT’s success in IBM’s midrange market is its capacity to be used as both a Windows terminal and an NC. There is still room for both NCs and Windows terminals, McCurdie says, adding, "Each of the devices has a niche market."

When the eWBTs are shipped at the end of the third quarter, they will be installed to replace any existing Visara NCs.

Affinity’s shift away from the NC and toward the Windows terminal is not a major public relations issue, according to Greg Blatnik, VP of Zona Research (Redwood City, Calif.). "The market determines what it needs, and the vendors provides those tools," he says.

Access to personal productivity applications is certainly a strong reason to use a Windows terminal, but some are being used simply to access legacy data, according to Blatnik. Companies such as Wyse Technology Inc. (San Jose, Calif.), Boundless Technologies Inc. (Austin, Texas) and Network Computing Devices Inc. (Mountain View, Calif.) have already shifted from NC to Windows terminal technology.

This leaves IBM "clearly holding the banner for Network Computers," Blatnik says. "IBM has developed a corporate message that network computing is a good thing and that Java is a useful tool. IBM wants to use Java to tie its various systems together, a strategy that makes a lot of sense."

Moves by companies such as Affinity, Wyse, Boundless and NCD away from the archetypal NC are not likely to make IBM back away from this technology, according to Blatnik. "[IBM] just needs the patience to wait for NC technology to develop," he says. "IBM has good products which have already been deployed."

From IBM’s perspective, a spokeswoman says the company’s family of Network Stations are a "well-rounded solution" but would not comment on the moves of Big Blue’s competitors.

With prices starting at $699, the Visara eWBT features: the ability to run midrange, mainframe, Windows 95, Windows NT, Unix and DOS applications simultaneously; Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Protocol (formerly Hydra); built-in TN3270, TN5250 and VT320 terminal emulation; Windows CE; and a Motorola Power PC thin-client processor.