IBM Changes Look, Feel, Functionality of Network Stations

While network computers never lived up to their promise as cost-effective desktop PC replacements, their potential as terminal replacements or as thin-client devices is huge. IBM continues to heavily promote its Network Station for these purposes, positioning its devices as access points to AS/400 environments, as well as ICA clients to Windows NT and Unix servers in partnership with Citrix Technologies (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.).

IBM recently launched a completely redesigned version of the device's operating system, as well as new hardware. The latest version of the Network Station Manager operating system (V2R1), a Unix derivative from Liberate Technologies (San Carlos, Calif.), includes a new, colorful GUI, as well as Netscape Communicator browser. The software runs on the company's latest Network Stations-Series 2200 and 2800-with a version for the Series 1000 to be made available this quarter. A version for the Series 300 will not ship until the first quarter of 2000.

The 2800 Series has a 266MHz Intel processor and supports 64MB of SDRAM, expandable to 256MB. The 2200 has a 233MHz processor, supporting 32MB SDRAM, expandable to 288MB.

The continuing development of the Network Station product line drives home IBM's commitment to support any client device hooked up to its servers. "Every time a vendor brings a product to market that offers choices, capabilities, benefits, manageability, support and security, everyone wins," says Eileen O'Brien, an analyst with IDC (Framingham, Mass.). "This continues to be a consistent message from IBM. IBM's mantra is that IS professionals can choose the best device for their applications, environments and end users-a handheld, desktop or portable PC as well as thin client."

IBM acknowledges that its Network Stations aren't for everybody-their prime audience is "special-purpose workers, such as order entry clerks," says Stephen Malkinson, manager of IBM's network computer division. Mobile workers may prefer notebook computers or handheld devices, while power users may want a fully loaded desktop PC. IBM intends to market aggressively into each sector. The primary benefit is the "speed of deployment and application access" afforded by thin-client devices. "Saving money is a side benefit," he adds.

The GUI for V2R1 has been upgraded to provide a simpler and more functional environment, says Malkinson. Features of the software include Netscape Communicator browser, an enhanced ICA client offering improved Windows application performance and audio and security features. Server versions are available for OS/400, AIX and Windows NT. V2R1 also offers browser support for audio and video, PDF file viewing and two-way e-mail. In addition, V2R1 provides the ability to run multiple Java applications concurrently-in the browser and the client-and a more customizable, graphical desktop environment.

Customers that want to migrate from V1R3 to V2R1 can take advantage of IBM's V1R3 upgrade licensing program and a migration tool.