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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

COMPUTER BUSINESS: Network Computing Has Future in Russia

This month Intel Corp. signed a three-year deal with Network Computing Devices Inc. to jointly develop networked desktop terminals. The deal marks a major step into the network computer market by the world's largest microprocessor manufacturer and confirms what many have been saying about the future importance of this market.

Network computers are the computer industry's response to widespread dissatisfaction among corporate computer users with the cost of running general purpose personal computers. Manufacturers and analysts believe that in the future PCs will be superseded by devices purpose-built for more specific applications. Network computers are the first of these new breeds of computing devices to appear on the market.

There are several competing network computer standards, but most devices have in common the following features: They have no removal storage (no floppy disk), typically a modest microprocessor and memory configuration, integrated Ethernet, some additional network manageability features and a very small footprint. Many are also designed without local storage (no hard disk). One standard, a platform backed by Microsoft, has been branded NetPCs by several major PC manufactures.

The savings from using network computers come from their manageability. A single technician can easily and quickly install, upgrade and maintain software used by all network computer users on a company network without the need for any end user intervention. There are far fewer components -- which means fewer parts that can fail and fewer possible causes of hardware incompatibility. Since the computers are sealed, there are also fewer opportunities for end users to introduce problems themselves. It is trickier to introduce a virus onto the company network if none of the computers has a floppy drive. There is less danger that a user might "borrow" parts .

I've already come across network computers in Russia. The country's largest PC manufacturer, Vist, produces its own line, and DellSystems reportedly won a tender to supply several hundred "NetPCs" to Konversbank. The Moscow city government is also said to be testing a batch made by Oracle.

Though I think they will take a while to catch on, these new devices have a prospective market here. Initially I think an issue will be that customers will expect them to cost less than they do. The NetPC is after all a stripped down general-purpose PC -- but those I've seen don't carry a particularly stripped-down price tag.

I don't expect to see many appearing in offices soon. The NetPC implies a new network-oriented view of computing, which I think will take a while to catch on here.

But what NetPCs offer most of all is more control -- something which appeals to corporate computer users in Russia. I've visited companies so paranoid about data security that Internet connections (or even e-mail) are forbidden to all but the computing department. The personal computer was a liberating technology in Russia. But for larger companies it has been an anarchic influence -- leading to sprawling installations of hundreds of computers that are difficult to control and monitor centrally.

The network computer may help roll back this development, enabling network administrators to better manage, monitor and control what goes on across a company's network. No fun if you like playing games on the office desktop, but a great way to avoid hours spent diagnosing why Windows isn't working properly or erasing a virus that has found its way onto the corporate network.

Robert Farish is editor of Computer Business Russia

Given that the kind of organizations to whom these devices will most appeal are often coy about releasing this kind of information I'm sure there are many other similar examples.

For banks and retail stores they are a great way to save space. Those I've seen are about the size of an A4 block of paper -- one fourth of the size of a typical PC.

-- an affordable way for hundreds of thousands of people to quickly start taking advantage of electronic documents and electronic communications

like memory modules or cache chips