Wyse's new windows terminal is a wireless and keyboardless wonder

A lot of products come and go through the Windows NT Magazine Lab. When we receive a product that grabs our attention, you can be sure the product is unique. Wyse Technology's Winterm Wireless 2930 clearly falls into this category because it is the first device we've seen that offers mobile, keyboardless access to existing DOS, 16-bit Windows, and 32-bit Windows applications.

With the Winterm Wireless 2930, you can walk around your office building while you gleefully cruise the Web. Medical professionals can use the terminal to update patient information as they make rounds in a hospital. Quality control engineers can use the terminal to track production in large manufacturing operations. Anyplace you want computer access but cannot reasonably put a computer is a good place for the Winterm Wireless 2930.

To deploy the Winterm Wireless 2930, you must build a supporting infrastructure using the following components:

  • An Intel-based server running Citrix Systems' WinFrame: The WinFrame server is the application server for the environment. WinFrame can host DOS, 16-bit Windows, and 32-bit Windows applications.
  • At least one wireless hub: The hubs give the Winterm Wireless 2930 entry points into your traditional LAN. You can overlap hub coverage to provide seamless connectivity throughout a building.
  • CruiseConnect by Cruise Technologies: CruiseConnect manages the connection between the terminal and the server and handles the difficulties that can crop up when a terminal moves from one hub zone to another.

You can buy these items individually, or you can purchase a starter kit from Wyse that includes a terminal, a wireless hub, a copy of WinFrame, and the CruiseConnect software.

Putting the Piece in Place
I evaluated Wyse's starter kit, which included the Winterm Wireless 2930, a Proxim RangeLAN2 Access Point (model 7520) wireless hub, and version 1.6 of WinFrame with five user licenses. The CruiseConnect technology is integrated into the Winterm Wireless 2930 (no setup or configuration required) and comes on a CD-ROM for the server side of the link.

The first step in deploying the Winterm Wireless 2930 is to install WinFrame on a server. Wyse does not modify the WinFrame software it provides in the starter kit--you can use an off-the-shelf version of WinFrame 1.5 or 1.6. WinFrame is based on Windows NT Server 3.51, so make sure you install it on a server that contains components, such as video adapters, that NT 3.51 supports. I overlooked this point and ended up swapping out my network and video adapters for NT 3.51-friendly adapters. For additional information about WinFrame, see Mark Smith, "Thin Is In," September 1997.

Installing WinFrame is as easy as installing NT 3.51, although you need to take a few extra licensing steps. After you install WinFrame, you must apply additional WinFrame Service Packs (SPs). Never install Microsoft NT SPs on a WinFrame system, always use the WinFrame SPs that combine the NT SPs with WinFrame-specific modifications. Wyse provides documentation on which SPs you'll need, and includes them on CD-ROM.

If you plan to use the Winterm Wireless 2930 in an all-IP network environment, forget it. The current combination of the Winterm Wireless 2930, the wireless hubs, and the CruiseConnect software rely on IPX as the network protocol. (Wyse Technology claims that as of this writing, TCP/IP has replaced IPX.) Under the Wyse wireless network design, the WinFrame server uses the Service Advertising Protocol (SAP--part of the IPX protocol suite) to broadcast the server's availability on the network. The Winterm Wireless 2930 picks up those broadcasts to identify which servers are available.

I connected my WinFrame server to a 10Mbps Ethernet network. I enabled support for both TCP/IP and IPX. I didn't need the TCP/IP protocol for the Winterm Wireless 2930, but I wanted the manageability that comes with TCP/IP (e.g., support for ping, FTP, Simple Network Management Protocol--SNMP). At this point, I had to install the CruiseConnect software on the server using the Wyse-provided documentation and CD-ROM. This operation was painless and uneventful.

After I had the WinFrame server in place and humming, I moved to the next step--installing the wireless hub. The Proxim hub I received in the starter kit hooked into my Ethernet network with ease and supported connections within a 500-foot radius. If I needed additional coverage, I could have deployed additional hubs in overlapping zones. The Proxim hub supports IP and IPX, so you can integrate into an IP-managed network. However, because I was using only IPX, I ignored the IP configuration of the hub. In a real IP network, you want to at least set up the IP address of the hub so you can manage it as part of your IP network. Because I could ignore the IP configuration of the hub, all I had to do was connect the hub to my network and a power source, and turn it on.

Cruising the Lab with the Winterm Wireless 2930
With my infrastructure in place, I picked up the Winterm Wireless 2930 and turned it on. The terminal is 9.8" tall and 10.6" wide and weighs 3.2 pounds. It's a lot bigger than a palmtop but a lot smaller than a laptop. The Winterm Wireless 2930 runs off a NiMH battery for up to 3 hours. Protective rubber housing runs around the edge of the unit, so if you drop it, it might survive. (I did not try this drop test.)

The Winterm Wireless 2930 felt comfortable in my hands when I walked around with it. Using it on the fly requires a skill set similar to using a clipboard on the fly. So if you can't write on a clipboard while you're standing, chances are good that you won't be able to use the Winterm Wireless 2930 either.

The display on the Winterm Wireless 2930 is a VGA-compatible LCD screen similar to a screen on a laptop computer. Note that I said VGA and not SuperVGA--the difference between the two display implementations is important because VGA limits you to 16 colors; you won't be walking around with the Winterm Wireless 2930, admiring photos you've scanned in. (Wyse Technology claims that a 256-color client software upgrade will be available by the time you read this review.)

The Winterm Wireless 2930 includes a stylus to simulate onscreen mouse clicks. The left side of the terminal includes a number of push-button controls that you can use to configure the unit, control the display brightness and contrast, activate the onscreen keyboard, change between right and left-click mouse emulation, invoke two macro key functions, enable and disable sound, and put the terminal into sleep and suspend mode.

When you turn on the Winterm Wireless 2930, it searches the network for compatible servers. If you installed your infrastructure correctly, you will see the name of your WinFrame server appear. Simply use the stylus to select a host, and press the Connect option. The Winterm Wireless 2930 will then connect to the WinFrame server, and the next thing you will see is the WinFrame logon screen. You can log on by activating the onscreen keyboard and pressing the appropriate keys, or you can preprogram your username and password into the macro buttons and press them to log on.

Once you're connected to the WinFrame server, using the Winterm Wireless 2930 is just like using a Wyse windows terminal, except you don't have a separate keyboard. Because the stylus emulates a mouse, you can press it to the screen to simulate a right or left mouse click. When you need to press specific keys, just pop up the onscreen keyboard and press the keys you need. I could not find any keyboard or mouse activities that I couldn't simulate on the Winterm Wireless 2930, but some operations were clearly easier than others.

For me, the best test of the Winterm Wireless 2930 was when I downloaded Internet Explorer (IE) 3.0 for NT 3.51 and cruised the Web. The Winterm Wireless 2930 provided a very natural interface to the Web--I could touch the stylus to a hotlink to move forward, or I could press Back to go back.

I would love to have this terminal nearby for Web access--you can hold it in your lap, sit back, and cruise with Web with grace and ease. However, I would not use the Winterm Wireless 2930 for word processing or spreadsheet applications because keyboard-intensive applications are not a good fit with this technology.

A Wyse Future?
While I was using the Winterm Wireless 2930, I kept thinking of cheesy science fiction movies where someone reads a newspaper on a digital tablet or one engineer presents a digital tablet for another engineer to look at. I was holding that device in my hand--I could use the Winterm Wireless 2930 to read USA Today via the Web, to run Performance Monitor, or to access any other application on my WinFrame host.

The Winterm Wireless 2930 impressed me. I recommend it for any mobile application that has minimal keyboard interaction.

The Winterm Wireless 2930 does not pose a threat to traditional desktop computers--then again, traditional desktop computers pose no threat to the Winterm Wireless 2930. These two different types of devices are designed for different applications. I'll never write a review using this terminal, but I'll never put my desktop computer in my lap to cruise the Web. My universe certainly has room for both types of devices.

Winterm Wireless 2930
Contact: Wyse Techmology * 800-438-9973
Web: http://www.wyse.com
Price: $2699