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Latest Sun Ray Clients Run Windows

Sun's latest product offerings confirm its belief, which also serves as its marketing slogan: "The network is the computer."

The Sun Ray 2 and Sun Ray 2FS, priced at $249 and $499 respectively, are compact, book-sized units with integrated Java Card slots for security, as well as 2 USB and printer ports.

The Sun Ray 2FS includes an additional USB port, fiber and Ethernet ports, and a "dual-head" connection for running two displays that can operate as one.

The dual-display capability is unique for a thin client. Sun Ray 2FS offers 1920x1200 resolution on both monitors, which it says is the highest resolution from any thin client vendor.

Sun Ray 2 FS
Sun Ray 2FS
Source: Sun

Potential customers include software developers, Wall Street traders and graphic designers who value the additional display real estate.

Sun has espoused a more open attitude to working with Competitors' software, which is very much reflected in the new Sun Rays.

The company licensed Microsoft's Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), which is incorporated in the latest Sun Ray software to let users access Windows Terminal Services.

The new software will essentially bring the Windows desktop and applications to Sun Ray users who want them.

Sun is also bringing its Secure Global Software (based on last technology it gained last year when it purchased Tarentella) to the Sun Rays for IT management of Windows, Linux and Solaris.

Apple's recently announced Boot Camp software lets Mac users install and run Microsoft Windows on their systems.

But with Boot Camp, you can only run one operating system at a time; if you start with the Mac OS you have to shut down, restart the computer and select Windows to run.

Sun's software lets users switch between Linux, Windows and Solaris much as you might switch between channels on a TV.

"Sun has had a lot of this technology; these are the latest refinements, and it's really cool," Bob O'Donnell, research director for clients and displays at IDC, told internetnews.com.

"What they haven't done a good job of is getting their message out. Walk up to any Sun Ray terminal in the world, swipe your card and be working with the same software and data you were before at a different location -- there's no arguing that's cool. It's a very compelling model."

The model might be particularly compelling for people who have to access information from multiple stations within their corporate campus. In a hospital, for example, a doctor may need to access patient information securely from multiple locations.

Thin clients are far less susceptible to virus attacks than PCs because they rely on a server-based infrastructure. Sun Ray offers log-in password protection, as well as the smart card for an additional level of security.

Physical security, the theft of notebooks and PCs storing valuable data, is also a big concern for enterprises.

"You can steal a Sun Ray but you're not going to lose any information or files; it's all stored on the server," Alan Brenner, vice president of Sun's client systems group, told internetnews.com.

Sun Ray 2
Sun Ray 2
Source: Sun

So is this the network computer revisited? Brenner said Sun's latest effort goes beyond that because it's less of a PC alternative and more an extension of what companies are already using.

"You can add Sun Rays incrementally and continue to run Windows or Linux and the software you already support," said Brenner.

In the mid-1990s, Sun, Oracle and others hyped the idea that network computers would displace PCs as the dominant desktop device.

They were low-priced and promised IT departments far lower support costs with software that could be installed and updated on the network, as well as other features.

But declining PC prices and customer resistance to give up their PCs cut the legs out from under the network computer movement, which has evolved into what's better known today as thin clients.

"The network computing model never took off, but it never went away," said O'Donnell. "Now we're starting to see the model gain traction."

He said thin clients had a 42 percent growth rate worldwide last year, with the total sales reaching 2.4 million units.

"That's a small base, but not too shabby, and it's growing."

O'Donnell said Sun trails market leader Wyse by a wide margin. And HP recently rejuvenated its thin-client line.

Sun is also touting a huge power savings advantage.

Said Brenner: "Sun Ray needs uses about four watts of power compared to about 80 watts for a typical PC."

He also said Sun may have the "thinnest" of the thin clients, as it eschews embedded Windows XP and other software and local storage features offered by some competitors.

Sun Rays rely on the server for software and storage and much of its processing.