The JavaStation: Network computing enters new era
McNealy and Co. launch offensive in Network Computer war
It is a vision that the company is willing to bet its own future on. And Sun will need to be aggressive. Competition for the next-generation of devices for the corporate desktop has become white-hot recently.
"This will be our focus for the next seven years," said Sun CEO Scott McNealy at the rollout. "We intend to take Java technology up to whole new levels, from the mainframe and the supercomputer right on down to the pager and the smart card."
The crowd pleaser at Sun's new product rollout was the JavaStation, a low-cost "zero-administration" network computer (NC) for running secure Java-enabled applications over corporate intranets or via the Internet. Equally important to Sun's strategy, though, are the introductions of its Netra j server, an array of software solutions for network computing, and a complete regimen of educational and support services.
Sun means business
The Netra j is described by Sun as "the zero-admin server for the zero-admin client." It runs in the JavaOS environment and features Sun's Netra browser-based administration tool suite. Firewall protection and Internet services come pre-installed, along with Netscape authoring and management software. Applix, Corel, Oracle, and OpenConnect Systems will bundle business applications to the Netra j. In addition, the new Java server will accommodate middleware applications from providers as diverse as IBM and Marimba. If the JavaStation will soon be at your fingertips, the Netra j is likely to be where your brain will be going. Ranging in price from $8,000 to $200,000 in five configurations, the Netra j is the true keystone to the Java enterprise model.
"Take the money you'll save from not having to invest in another mainframe, from not spending on the Year 2000 [problem], and not having to upgrade your desktop PCs, and put it into the Java-computing model," said McNealy. "It's the right architectural choice for your ROI [return on investment]."
Sun's software announcement included the following:
"When we demo HotJava Views, people immediately react with the same response, `Oh, now I get it,'" said David Spenhoff, director of marketing for the new product. "We started by gathering our human-interface engineers together back in June and told them that we wanted the simplest and most integrated design they could come up with. And frankly, we were a little surprised at how many roadblocks in the interface they were able to eliminate."
Sun also announced its plans for educating users and administrators, as well as expanding its support services for Java developers. The new education offerings, to be conducted at Sun training sites worldwide, include the Java and Internet Skills Analysis Service, the Java and Internet Training Curriculum, and the Java Certification Program. The new JavaTutor will deliver self-paced learning to users over the Internet or from a CD-ROM. Subscription-based online and live telephone support for developers working with Java will provide 24-hour access to a staff of SunService engineers.
One brick or two with your coffee?
According to Sun, its diskless JavaStation will operate in the new JavaOS operating system (which requires less than 3 megabytes of RAM), it will use HotJava Views as its GUI, and it will offer users the alternative of accessing the Net or intranets with either the HotJava or Navio Navigator browsers.
The new Sun NC will be offered in two form factors: a stylish design for the desktop, called the Coffee Maker; and a plain box design, called the Brick, for out-of-eyesight uses. JavaStations will be offered in configurations using 8 megabytes to 64 megabytes of main memory and 4 megabytes to 8 megabytes of flash memory. The base price for a JavaStation will be $742; a full-featured model will cost $995; and a model equipped with a 17-inch monitor and keyboard will run for $1,565. The first JavaStation production models are expected to ship in December.
The JavaStation is powered by SPARC CPU and conforms to the NC Reference 1.0 spec formulated by a group led by Apple Computer, IBM, Oracle, and Sun.
Demonstrating the new product's practically costless installation, McNealy himself plugged in the cabling and downloaded the operating system for a JavaStation from a dedicated network in a little more than two minutes.
This means war
Sun, of course, is not alone in its pursuit of capturing market share for the next generation of enterprise desktop computers. Recent announcements by Microsoft, Oracle, and IBM have made it clear that a knockdown-dragout brawl will soon ensue for the hearts and minds of corporate decision-makers worldwide. On Monday, Microsoft released preliminary specs for its NetPC, a stripped-down Intel device (which McNealy called "a PC in a corset") that will run in a new, lightweight Windows environment. Oracle, in conjunction also with Intel, is expected to announce next week that its new Network Computer, using Netscape Navigator, will be ready for the public by December, as well. And IBM has released details of its forthcoming Network Station, also expected to be rolled out soon. So the competition in the year ahead should be nothing less than ferocious.
The bottom-line issue for corporate technology managers, of course, will be total cost of ownership (TCO) over the long haul.
"The thing that is going to drive this business is TCO," McNealy said. "You've all heard the numbers: anywhere from $8,000 to $13,000 a year, depending on who you talk to, for hardware depreciation, software amortization, network costs, user education, system administration, and just plain futzing with the computer. We plan to bring that number down to $2,500 a year, all up, all in."
Judging from the line-up of products announced yesterday and a show of support at the rollout from over 450 software vendors and system integrators already signed on to the Java Enterprise Computing initiative, Sun has an excellent chance of coming out on top in the looming Great NC War of 1997. --Kieron Murphy
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