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MS, Intel demo mutant thin server appliance

It's not thin, it's not cheap, and it doesn't do much bar file and print. Welcome to the twilight zone...

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Microsoft's first showing of NT Embedded yesterday took the form of the first demonstration of an alleged 'thin server appliance' co-developed with Intel. But the implementation seems strangely changed from the thin server appliances Intel has been bashing on about since last summer, and it seems inevitable that the device's appearance does not signal a renewal of the formerly close relationship between the gruesome twosome. Intel's thin server concept is for a cheap, closed down box that's easy to install, and performs simple, specific tasks on the network. (Intel network scheme means war with MS) Something you plug into a small business network and then magically find your print, email and so forth problems are sorted fits the bill perfectly. Intel also doesn't want any nonsense about huge multi-purpose operating systems, it wants single or limited task ones. So traditional embedded operating systems fit the bill here, rather than bigger, multi-purpose ones like NT Embedded. Intel also insists that per user licensing is out of the window - if a thin server network is having to pay a couple of hundred dollars to Microsoft for each person connected, then it's not low cost at all, is it? We remarked on how obviously Microsoft NT didn't fit the bill as the operating system at the time of Intel's announcement, and we remain right. Yesterday's demo did make a small breakthrough on licensing. It would appear that Microsoft is willing to let the box host an unlimited number of users, but while this might appear to be a massive breakthrough on licensing, check out the catches. The thin server is intended to handle file and print sharing, not application hosting. It will deal with Internet connectivity, but the no application hosting aspect means no Web server hosting, so -- phew -- we're not going to have that problem of people trying to host Web servers on NT Workstation rearing its ugly head again. In its "thin server appliance" incarnation, NT Embedded is therefore crippled. How badly crippled remains to be seen, but as you begin to compare features with projected features for the next generation Windows 2000 NT variant, you'll no doubt note it is very badly crippled indeed. Microsoft is obviously trying to preserve revenue streams. It doesn't want to lose high margin business on NT server sales, and it doesn't want to lose all those lovely client licences. But it does have to do something about simplified, stripped-down boxes and network operating systems. And here it's shooting itself in the foot with this particular project. It's quoting a price for an OEM-built thin server appliance of $1,000-$2,000, which is of course basically a standard PC price. No surprises there, as there's going to be a standard PC in there with the screen and keyboard chopped out. The price leaves space for MS to charge something in the region of the usual amount for its software, so again no nasty precedents created here. But Intel's view of a thin server appliance lies more around the $399-$499 mark. You can do file and print perfectly adequately at this level, so what is it about the MS variant that's worth an extra $1,500? Users will vote with their wallets. ®

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