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Sun shines spotlight on Ray thin client

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Sun yesterday announced its re-entry into the thin client market: Ray, the thin client formerly codenamed 'Corona'. The $499 Ray will ship with no operating system of its own, just enough code to display output from NT and Solaris apps running via Ray server software. Even the graphics rendering is handled by the server, Sun said. As predicted, the slimline box contains a 100Mbps Ethernet port plus four USB connectors. Ray also contains a pair of built-in speakers. Curiously, Sun isn't just selling Ray as a box -- the machine is also being offered through a range of deals, from a simple $9.99 per month leasing arrangement through to bundles containing server, software, switch, and a stack of Rays and monitors to go with them. Sun demo'd Ray running the StarOffice personal productivity suite on a Solaris server, finally revealing why the company bought the suite in the first place -- as opposed to simply getting its hands on something it can use to compete with Microsoft Office in the Linux space. Of course, whether Ray plus StarOffice is enough to persuade all those companies putting full PCs and/or PCs as thin clients on desktops remains to be seen. Sun appears to have avoided the 'PC killer' tag -- not least because that's how the ill-fated JavaStation network computer was pitched -- but that does appear to be what we're talking about here. Previous reports have suggested Sun hopes to shift one million Rays in 2000, and it could manage to do so. The trick will be persuading companies that these zero-maintenance boxes (at the client end, at least) are way more cost-effective than budget-priced PCs. Given so many departments are equipped with powerful servers used simply for file and print sharing and which could easily be used to host a stack of Rays, the cost argument -- when you take into account the NC's novel pricing structure -- is a powerful one. That said, it's going to be tough for Sun not to use Ray as a tool to flog would-be buyers expensive server hardware -- if it fails to resist the temptation, it will probably persuade people to stick with the PC as a client, something they've spent the whole of the 90s getting used to. ®

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