At a show designed to celebrate the past and future of the PC, Compaq Computer is planning to alter that future when the world's largest PC maker announces its first thin-client offering third quarter.
According to Mike Winkler, senior vice president and group general manager of PC products at Compaq, the company will introduce a Windows-based Terminal running Windows CE in September. The move underscores the changes the PC market is currently undergoing given the effect of the Internet on traditional client/server computing.
"We believe it is a viable market and that we have to have an offering," said Winkler of the thin-client market. "There is an Internet appliance model and it can be a very attractive alternative (to the PC.)"But Compaq will not be stopping with a Windows-based Terminal. The PC-giant is also planning "purpose-specific" PCs, designed for targeted users. One such product is an Office 2000-specific PC, made to serve basic office productivity applications without the superfluous functionality of a general-purpose PC. Terming the products "office appliances," the company plans to shave costs off of systems by stripping out unnecessary hardware and software.
"There won't be just one kind of thin client," Winkler added.
Compaq's vision of the network of the future is one in which a variety of devices share access to the network, delivering functionality for disparate types of end-users. WinCE handhelds, thin clients, and full-function PCs will all reside on one network throughout an enterprise. But according to Winkler, that type of network requires infrastructure and bandwidth that are not yet available.
"The backbones of today won't serve that environment."
The highly anticipated Windows 2000 Server product expected from Microsoft by the end of the year will likely spur mixed client environments. Windows 2000 will include multiuser thin-client support as part of the core OS.
Despite its financial woes, Compaq continues to churn out new products, introducing a thin-and-light notebook and the Aero 8000 WinCE handheld two weeks ago.
But Compaq is also stepping up its efforts to reassure its customer base that it is stable and has a viable long-term strategy. Beginning this week, the company is sending written correspondence to customers and mobilising a force of sales people to visit accounts and spell out its vision.
"I can't think of any customers that we've lost, but we have to maintain some consistency in executive contact," something that Compaq has lost along with many key executives over the past two months, according to Winkler.