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The network is still the computer, Sun insisted today, only now it includes cheap PCs too.

Kicking off Sun's Network conference in San Francisco, Scott McNealy talked about "light purple box" desktop hardware, as opposed to "white box" PCs. Education, government and retail banking are targets.

But Sun has heartlessly condemned the bourgeois to a life of Wintel, judging by comments Jonathan Schwartz made to the New York Times. Schwartz said Sun "had no immediate plans to try to compete with Microsoft for the heart of its user base: white-collar workers and managers."

Call centres might make a natural target for cheap PCs, but they make an even better customer for thin client computing, where applications are rolled out centrally, where there's little or no call for local storage. (And little opportunity for end users to muck things up, although denying the call center staff any distraction from their drudgery is cruel indeed).

This is the SunRay model, the MetaFrame/Windows Terminal Server model, and both are pretty mature now. The fact that a fat PC - and it's still fat no matter how cheap it is - suggests that this architecture doesn't quite have what it takes. If it did, we'd be hearing about JavaStations or new SunRays today. So perhaps thin client computing died when we weren't looking.

McNealy didn't name a price in his keynote for the desktop PC. (We'll update this as soon as we know). But he did dwell on the price of StarOffice at $55.95 and claimed Sun partner Telstra was moving to the suite and ditching Microsoft Office for most of its staff.

That neatly sums up Sun's pitch. The awful StarOffice may be ideologically correct, but it's an unlovely experience that defines as well as anything else Scot's favorite word: hairball. I'm yet to meet someone who prefers using StarOffice over Microsoft Office 2000 (XP is a mess) for purely aesthetic reasons.

Nevertheless with the cost of a Microsoft Windows license now double that of a bare bones computer, such aesthetics are trumped by cost considerations.

McNealy gave an overview of Sun's position that is mostly familiar to regulars, but he did single out the 1.2Ghz UltraSPARC III processor with reduced power consumption (53w) and the return of Les Kohn to Sun, via the purchase of Afara Websystems. No more specifics on Afara hardware yet. ®

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