Simple Switch from PC to NC
By RICHARD POYNDER
23 April 1997
New software developed by California-based JavaSoft - a division of Sun Microsystems - promises to breathe new life into older PCs, and save companies lots of money by extending the working lives of machines destined for the scrap heap.
Developed under an internal programme called Project Rescue, JavaPC - due for release in the autumn - will simply and easily convert a PC running on Dos into a network computer.
Although installation is said to be as simple as loading a new application, such as a word processor, any 486-based PC (or higher) would be transformed instantly into a hybrid machine capable of running software developed for Java-based NCs.
Until now, companies wanting to move to the network computing model have had to face replacing their existing PCs with NCs. Moreover, while NCs are considerably less expensive than PCs, they have limited functionality and operate only while connected to the network.
JavaPC will cost less than $100 in the US, says Sun, and will enable organisations to benefit from the cross-platform capabilities and lower support costs associated with the NC, using their existing machines.
In addition, computers running the new software will still be able to use Dos applications and - if Windows is installed - Windows programs too.
The new software consists of three components: the Java operating system; HotJava Views, JavaSoft's graphical user interface; and the Java Virtual Machine.
This, says David Spenhoff, director of product marketing at JavaSoft, masks the identity of the host machine, regardless of its operating system or hardware platform.
Amy Porter, JavaSoft's European marketing manager, estimates that there are around 180m Dos-based PCs worldwide that could benefit from the new software, although initially the company is targeting a smaller group.
"In the short term we will focus our efforts on medium to large businesses, education and government," she says. "Figures from DataQuest and IDC [two leading independent IT market researchers] suggest that in these areas alone there are 30m PCs that could benefit."
But Mark Pryke-Smith, UK-based product manager for Microsoft's Internet platform and tools division, is keen to play down the significance of the new software. He points out that Microsoft has recently launched a version of its Internet Explorer Web browser for older Windows machines that can achieve the same objective, for free.
"Given that it is Java-enabled, Internet Explorer already incorporates a Virtual Machine," he says. "And Internet Explorer can be downloaded from the Internet without charge. Moreover, unlike the new JavaSoft software, Internet Explorer is capable of running on 386s and 286s, as well as 486s."
Audrey Apfel, an analyst at Gartner Group, sees JavaPC as a good tactical move by Sun. For an almost non-existent commitment, she argues, companies can experiment with the NC model.
She is sceptical about Microsoft's claims that a Java-enabled browser can do the same job as effectively: "I would anticipate that JavaPC will provide better performance than a fat browser."