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Sun eyes Citrix Windows code

`Internet toaster' OS or perhaps Java itself
may get Windows display technology

By Cara Cunningham

September  1996
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Boston -- Infoworld Electric reported in early September that Sun Microsystems is interested in a technology from Citrix Systems that, when mixed with the right ingredients, could give users access to Windows, Java, and legacy applications from a low-cost desktop computer.

The Web version of Infoworld says Sun signed a "non-binding letter of intent (LOI)" to license Citrix's ICA distributed Windows protocol. Sun will include the technology in future, unspecified products, Sun officials said.

ICA gives client devices the ability to execute Windows applications' interfaces that are accessed from the program's code running on an ICA-based server. It is akin to X Window System, which allows remote, network devices (such as X terminals) to use applications running on servers. While similar in concept to X Window System, it does not use X technology.

Sun officials would not specify how they would integrate ICA into Sun's product line. They did, however, say that mixing this distributed Windows capability with Java technology and the X protocol for distributing Unix applications would answer almost every user's needs.

"We think ICA is essentially complementary to both Java and X; for us to carry all three paradigms would be a really nice product offering for customers," said Pete Abrams, market strategist with Sun Microsystems Computer Co., the company's hardware division, in Mountain View, Calif.

It has been speculated that Citrix and Sun -- the creator of Java -- would join forces to integrate the two technologies. Sun would not comment on this possibility.

"The ICA protocol is extensible, it could be easily ported to different client hardware platforms, devices and operating systems and Java, sure, it could port there," said a spokeswoman with Citrix, who declined to comment further because the company is in a "LOI state" with Sun.

The ideal hardware platform for this combination of ICA, Java, and X would be the network computer (NC), a low-cost desktop device with minimal local resources that depends on applications and data stored on a central server.

While Sun has shown prototypes of its interpretation of the NC -- most recently at the SCO Forum last month -- Abrams would not comment on the company's NC plans. The company is expected to introduce the device in October.

High functionality, such as being able to access nearly any application, is the way that NCs are evolving, said one analyst. While the initial concept of the NC -- as portrayed by Oracle Corp. chairman Larry Ellison and Sun chairman Scott McNealy -- was interpreted as a competitive strike to prevent Microsoft Corp. from ruling the desktop, the NC is evolving into a product category that can answer many different customer segment needs, said Jean S. Bozman, Unix and server analyst with International Data Corp. in Mountain View, CA.

"Obviously what [NC proponents] were trying to do was to make it where Microsoft doesn't control every application on the desktop," Bozman said. "Now you can actually start to envision NCs as providing a range of functionality."

--Cara Cunningham, Infoworld Electric

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