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Java NC Vendors Are No Show at "Lowering TCO"

"When I say NetPC, I'm including the highly-managed, locked down PC," Gartner analyst Audrey Apfel said. The Java NC allies spotted a real opportunity when TCO arose as an issue, but Microsoft has had time to react. "If Microsoft was really dumb and hadn't done anything, the NC would have taken hold to a greater extent. Also, you have to remember that the current model is based on Microsoft delivering everything as specified. That's the thing about these models--the assumptions are more interesting than the conclusions."

The PC industry's real innovations are things like hardware and operating system enhancements that allow centralized network management software to make a PC wake up in the middle of the night or the middle of the weekend and then make any necessary changes in applications, configuration, or operating systems.

Scott Winkler, the man responsible for digesting all of Gartner's research about Microsoft, said Microsoft is well on its way to redefining itself as the solution, not the problem, in terms of TCO.

"Microsoft has made it worse and more expensive to own these systems over the last 10 years because they were focused on functionality, not cost. Now they want to be recognized as the ones that turned that around once they noticed it as an issue," he said.

Microsoft won't really start delivering on this promise until it delivers Windows NT 5.0, which Gartner doesn't expect until the second quarter of 1999.

By the time Microsoft releases all the bug fixes to make the new release useful, most organizations will be too busy holding their breath about the year 2000 problem to do the upgrade, so the technology won't really arrive until at least 2001, Winkler said.

But even though Microsoft won't deliver TCO savings immediately, "just announcing that they are going in that direction is enough to satisfy a lot of people," Winkler said. "It also makes it harder for their competitors to exploit this as an issue."

The situation is also reversed on the server, where Microsoft's Windows NT is significantly easier to use and more cost effective than the Unix systems it is now challenging, Winkler said. Microsoft does face stronger and more competent competition in server operating systems and applications, however.

"They're probably even going to be the number one player, but they will not necessarily dominate the way they do in the desktop market," Winkler said. "One reason is if they dominate, they will attract future government and trust-busting action. So who has the greatest interest in seeing Netscape survive? It matters more to Microsoft than to anyone else." Because Microsoft does not want to be blamed for the death of Netscape, it will probably ease off on efforts to utterly crush this competitor, he said.

Although network computers may not prove to be a large factor, network computing as a style of deploying applications is here to stay, Winkler said.

Gartner first saw this trend applied to mission critical systems a couple of years ago when companies deploying complicated enterprise applications from vendors like SAP began deciding not to install the full client on all their PCs. Instead, they moved the SAP client onto an NT server and used Citrix WinFrame to make the applications available through a terminal-type interface--even though, in most cases, the device on the user's desk was actually a PC, not a specialized terminal.

"They wanted to be able to deploy the application at the users desktop without having to deploy the application on the user's desktop," Winkler said.

Ultimately, this terminal-like access to Windows terminals will prevail for office productivity applications that don't seem to translate well into an HTML or Java model, but Web technology will encompass almost all enterprise applications.

"It's what you'll do unless the applications are extremely analytical or heavily oriented toward mobile computing. But, in the future, those are going to be the exceptions rather than the rule," Winkler said.

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