Could Digital Equipment Corp’s launch last week of a ‘multi-client desktop’ running personal computer and X Window applications at the desktop, without relinquishing centralised control, herald the end of the line for specialised X-terminals? Certainly there seems to be little future for DEC’s own XVT line of X-terminals following the introduction of Multia (CI No […]
Could Digital Equipment Corp’s launch last week of a ‘multi-client desktop’ running personal computer and X Window applications at the desktop, without relinquishing centralised control, herald the end of the line for specialised X-terminals? Certainly there seems to be little future for DEC’s own XVT line of X-terminals following the introduction of Multia (CI No 2,538), which is both faster at running pure X and more flexible, allowing for the later addition of PCMCIA-compliant and Peripheral Component Interconnect peripherals for multimedia, video conferencing, facsimile modems, Fibre Distributed Data Interface, SCSI and various network connections. A rating of 2,500 Xstones is estimated for Multia, although the X11.6 software is not available until early next year. As prices and margins on X-terminals have plummeted, both Network Computing Devices Inc and Tektronix Inc have shown signs of a shifting emphasis towards software: Network Computing Devices is pushing its way into the personal computer-X server market and Tektronix is working with multi-user MS-DOS and Windows NT developer Citrix Systems Inc in order to bring personal computer applications over to the X world. Tektronix’s argument is still that the desktop device should be kept cheap and simple and all the upgrading should be done at the central, server end if a performance boost is wanted. But DEC argues that with the addition of extra software to get access to personal computer applications, there needs to be some serious server power to achieve acceptable performance and that that cancels out the cost benefits of the desktop devices. But while Tektronix sticks to the X model and separates the front and back end of Windows and NT programs through its WinDD client code, Multia hardware uses a 166MHz Alpha chip, a 350Mb disk and has Windows NT 3.5 running locally. Once X11.6 becomes available, it will offer cutting and pasting between X and Windows.
Run as an X client
A third alternative is another multi-user NT effort from Microsoft Corp spin off ConnectSoft Inc of Bellevue, Washington, whose forthcoming X Connect for Windows product will enable any 16- or 32-bit Windows application that renders in a Windows window to run as an X client on an NT Server. No additional software is needed at the X-terminal end, and any X-terminal or personal computer running X can be used, whereas the Tektronix solution is limited to its own TekXpress terminals with code added in ROM. X Connect will initially support only a single X device, and when the multi-user version becomes available will support four on an 80486 server or 10 on a Sequent Computer Systems Inc machine. DEC itself, Wyse Technology Inc and Network Computing Devices are said to be looking at the product. The reason that Multia is not a personal computer, said DEC, is that it includes communications software that enables access to any networked data source, and configuration management software that controls its use, retaining centralised control. Communications options include TCP/IP, DECnet, Pathworks, NetWare, LAN Manager, and soon Network File System and Local Area Transport. The configuration software ensures that all data held locally on the personal computer is also copied onto the server, and can also control security, the use of floppy disks, and peripherals. Personal computer applications can therefore be run either locally or remotely. If a user requires access to, say, the Excel spreadsheet only occasionally, it can be left on the server, cached locally when required, and afterwards erased. If stored locally, the application’s data is stored on the server. Individual or workgroups of desktops can be configured and managed, and each desktop can be customised. There are two PCMCIA-type slots, Peripheral Component Interconnect graphics accelerator and slot, built-in sound and Small Computer Systems Interface, and standard Thinwire, AUI and 10BaseT Ethernet connectors. DEC claims that 16-bit Windows applications will run at Intel Corp 80486DX rates, while 32-bit Windows and NT applications will
run two to three times faster than Pentium systems.