Recently, Citrix changed the way it refers to its technology from "thin-client/server computing" to "server-based computing." The change is purely a matter of terminology and helps Citrix emphasize the server rather than the client. This change and several industry developments, including new uses for Windows NT Embedded, lead me to conclude that we'd all better start thinking server.
Windows NT Embedded
Citrix has been licensing its Independent Computing Architecture (ICA) technology for every type of client device. Each week, vendors introduce a new client device that uses ICA to let the device function as a thin client. Microsoft will try to follow Citrix's lead, but for now, the combination of ICA with NT or Windows 2000 (Win2K) server Terminal Services lets you run Win2K and NT applications on many clients.
The latest client devices to support server-based computing are terminals with NT Embedded Workstation 4.0. One company leading the NT Embedded Workstation market is Netier Technologies, which has designed dozens of custom configurations for specialized uses of NT Embedded terminals. For example, cyberXpo.com wanted kiosks offering free Internet access in four Texas shopping malls. The company needed a secure, reliable, high-performance, tamper-proof device to provide fast Internet access. Netier designed such a device with NT Embedded Workstation and a 72MB flash file system, a localized Web browser, 3-D audio, Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) audio, and remote reboot.
Two years ago, I saw Bill Gates on stage at a Fusion conference, trashing Oracle's concept of the network computer (NC), especially the embedded browser. "NCs burn in the most volatile piece of software in existence, the browser. This makes no sense," Gates stated.
Now, with NT Embedded, Microsoft has embraced and extended the NC concept. What will Bill say when he demonstrates one of these NT Embedded Workstation units with an embedded browser?
And on the NC side, Network Computer Incorporated (NCI, which Liberate Technologies, an affiliate of Oracle, now owns) has announced it will incorporate ICA into its NC Desktop software, the client software and suite of applications for the NC. ICA will let NCI add Windows-based functionality to its current Java, HTML, and NC Operating System (NCOS) offerings. NCI found it difficult to sell NCs that couldn't run Windows applications. With ICA, NCI solves that problem.
What other markets offer potential for server-based computing and NT Embedded? Well, if the market for PCs slows down, 200 million TVs are out there, and they don't have Microsoft products on them—yet. And behind every TV will be a server running Win2K.
Microsoft is going after the TV set-top market with its Windows CE-based WebTV set-top box. Microsoft has billions of dollars to invest in broadband communication companies and is attaching strings to such investment: When companies that Microsoft subsidizes vote for a set-top box standard, they must vote for WebTV. For example, Microsoft invested $5 billion in AT&T, and AT&T committed to licensing 7.5 to 10 million units of Microsoft's client software for advanced set-top boxes (ASTB). Also, AT&T agreed to work with Microsoft to feature Microsoft Television Platform Adaptation Kit (TVPAK) client and server technology in three pilot cities.
What do server-based computing and NT Embedded mean to you? Microsoft will change the way it develops software, much of which will be browser based or embedded. Microsoft will adopt concurrent licensing because one-user-per-device doesn't fit the way people work anymore.
For consumers, subscription-based licensing will be the norm. You will sign up for The Microsoft Network (MSN), for example, pay your $19.95-per-month subscription fee, and receive access to a wide array of browser-based software—perhaps even a browser-based version of Microsoft Word and Excel. No matter where you access the Internet from, you'll have your personalized desktop and applications waiting. Most likely, your access device (TV, terminal, PC, or Personal Digital Assistant—PDA) will be free, subsidized by your 3-year commitment to your MSN subscription.
So, as you plan your application deployment for the next few years, think server. Pick the best client device for the job, but keep all control on the server.