The Network Computer, derided by the big players last year, is being embraced as a robust alternative to the PC. Tony Durham and Tim Greenhalgh explore its rise
University of North London librarian Mike O'Reilly has installed 45 Neoware Neostations for students browsing the university's electronic library catalogue.
When switched on, the machines connect to a Sun Unix server, download a lightweight operating system and modified Netscape browser, and are ready to go.
O'Reilly did not want users blocked out of the catalogue by fellow-students exploring the Internet or typing dissertations. There are PCs for that, elsewhere in the library.
PCs can be locked into a single application (so-called "kiosk mode") using programs such as Ikiosk and NetSitter, but the Neostations excelled at this and were cheaper. "On Neoware we've got a rock-solid kiosk mode," O'Reilly says. A basic intranet approach, using a Web browser as the user interface, was O'Reilly's choice. "We didn't have to buy an NT Server or Winframe licence, which saved us about Pounds 10,000," he says.
The library uses BLCMP's Talis software which, like several other library packages, has been upgraded to allow Web access to library catalogues. Students made 240,000 searches in the first three weeks. "We are having queues at the Neowares," O'Reilly reports. Neoware put six years work into the NetOS operating system which it originally developed for X terminals.
The company took less than a month to port Java and Netscape to NetOS, and was able to bring one of the first NCs to the market. Neoware offers access to Windows applications (using Citrix technology) and to "legacy" mainframe applications (using terminal emulator programs) in addition to the core NC capabilities of Internet, intranet and Java.
Wayne State University in Detroit has deployed 300 Neoware machines in its library. As intranets spread into student accomodation, Neoware's president Edward Callahan says that the latest growth area in US universities is the "NC in the dorm".