Over time, Microsoft's slogan, "A computer on every desk and in every home," has morphed to simply, "Windows everywhere." Literally, this statement means Microsoft wants a version of Windows (i.e., Windows NT, Windows 98, Windows 95, Windows CE) to be everywhere an operating system (OS) can be. Win95 and Win98 have taken Windows into most homes and offices. NT is taking Windows to servers, workstations, and business desktops. CE is entering new territory by bringing Windows to handheld devices, terminals, car dashboards, copiers, and TV set-top boxes. Let's examine this "Windows everywhere" vision and see where Microsoft might take Windows next.
The Windows-based Terminal Server edition of NT Server 4.0 is the latest technology to fit this slogan and the vision it describes. Terminal Server lets you run 32-bit Windows applications on an NT server, which sends only screen updates to thin-client devices. Ideally, to fulfill Microsoft's vision of "Windows everywhere," all thin-client devices would have CE on them. However, many non-Windows OSs work with Terminal Server because of Citrix Intelligent Console Architecture (ICA) technology. The ICA protocol reaches out to old PCs, Macintoshes, X terminals, network computers (NCs), wireless terminals, and a myriad of task-oriented devices that haven't hit the market. Although these devices don't run Windows yet, ICA connects them to Terminal Server and thus brings them closer to the vision of "Windows everywhere."
In my September 1997 cover story, "Thin Is In," I coined the term lean client to describe NCs and NetPCs. The difference between a lean client and a thin client is that a significant portion of an application runs on a lean client, whereas no portion of the application runs on a thin client.
An NC is a lean-client device that loads and runs Java applications from an attached server. An NC requires a Java Virtual Machine (JVM), which is not OS specific and gives an NC the ability to run Java applications and HTML. Alone, an NC can run only Java applicationsnot Windows applications. That limitation means NC users must buy all new applications, a huge cost-of-entry expense for companies considering NCs.
However, an NC lean client has advantages over thin clients. First, because a portion of the application runs on the lean client, the attached server can handle more lean clients than thin clientspossibly five times as many. Second, with so many Java applications being written with Web-based technology, the opportunities for NCs are growing and NCs will succeed. But having no access to 32-bit Windows applications limits their use for now.
Citrix ICA technology fixes this limitation and extends the vision of "Windows everywhere." A Java version of ICA lets an NC work as a thin client and access 32-bit Windows applications from Terminal Server. Already, Network Computing Devices (NCD), IBM, Oracle, and Sun Microsystems have licensed ICA from Citrix for use in their NCs.
Industry analysts predict that new client devices will replace 12 million to 24 million green-screen terminals by the year 2001. The competition for this market is already heating up. Intel announced its intention to pursue this market with what Intel calls a lean-client device. Intel also bought a portion of NCD, manufacturer of IBM's NCs and Windows-based terminals. Because IBM has the largest number of green-screen terminals in production, IBM wants to be the vendor of choice when users replace these devices. However, Microsoft has an opportunity to extend its "Windows everywhere" vision to millions more devices by replacing them with Windows-based terminals, Windows CE devices designed to work with Terminal Server. Manufacturers such as NCD, Tektronix, Wyse Technology, Boundless Technologies, and Neoware Systems are going after this Windows-based terminal market.
Would you pay $300 for a device that runs Microsoft Word, Excel, Internet Explorer (IE), Java, and CE applications and connects easily to the Internet or an intranet? If you answered yes, one day you may own a Web-TV. Microsoft is hoping to make the Web-TV the next set-top box standard, increasing by the millions the market for CE applications. But what if you add an Ethernet connection to the Web-TV? This combination could be an inexpensive alternative to the typical office client. If Java applications are plentiful and the NC becomes a cheap and easy solution, the Web-TV market could expand rapidly. At that point, Microsoft will embrace and extend the NC rather than fight it. Microsoft will simply redefine the Web-TV as an NC and claim that the 300,000 Web-TVs already shipped count toward Microsoft's 50 percent market share. All that matters is the vision of "Windows everywhere."