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Report from COMDEX: Corel's NetWinder

Nov 18, 1998, 01:55 (3 Talkback[s])

by Dwight Johnson

I learned that Corel has their 9.5"x6"x2" NetWinder Linux computer running in their COMDEX suite, so I boarded the shuttle bus for the short ride from the Linux Pavilion in the Sands Expo to the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Entering the main convention hall, I let myself get swept up in the sea of technophiles rushing into the Microsoft Pavilion.

Once there, I was amazed by how COMDEX had changed since my last attendance in 1994. Then, Microsoft had a very large, but still contained exhibit space. How different today--Microsoft's presence has exploded into a seemingly endless series of open exhibits as far as the eye can see, filling the entire exhibits floor. Every application in Microsoft's product line has its own exhibit sporting a mini-theatre manned by a dedicated presenter demoing the product to a small audience. As I wandered through this space, I could not help but ponder the fate of the software makers who once made products under their own labels for the applications now being exclusively represented by Microsoft.

After what seemed like interminable wanderings, I finally came to the end of the Microsoft Pavilion only to discover I was entering the Microsoft Partners Pavilion--hundreds of partner companies representing those which support Microsoft platforms but which have not yet been completely absorbed or put out of business by the great company.

Each partner was provided with a tiny exhibit space adjoining the identical spaces for all the other partners, each with an identically designed black on yellow name plate. Each space was provided with a stool so the marketing rep could occasionally sit down.

Here, I saw represented many of the companies which have ported or are porting their products to Linux.

I spoke to Kathleen Shanahan, a sales program manager for the Adaptec corporation. She explained that the cost of a booth at COMDEX was exorbitant and that they found it more cost effective to participate in the Microsoft Partner Pavilion and also were maintaining a similar presence in the Novell Partner Pavilion.

I was finally able to escape from the Microsoft labyrinth and made my way to the Corel suite on the second floor. I let the receptionist know I had come to see the NetWinder and was introduced to Ralph Siemsen, a Corel software engineer, who showed it to me.

The NetWinder is based on a RISC processor, the Intel 32-bit StrongARM SA-110, which at 275 MHz delivers 250 MIPS but is handicapped for some applications by not having hardware floating point arithmetic instructions.

I was surprised to see the number of interfaces provided standard with the NetWinder. Nearly every conceivable connection to a peripheral device is provided for: two Ethernet connections, 10BaseT and 10/100BaseT, parallel and serial ports, 2MB VGA and SVGA video, 16-bit sound sampling, built-in microphone/speaker, full duplex stereo in/out, NTSC/PAL, PS2 keyboard and mouse ports, and it uses a parsimonious external 12VDC at 1.5A DC adapter as its power supply.

Adding to its capability and versatility, the NetWinder will accept from 16MB to 128MB DRAMM, 1MB to 4MB Flash RAM, and a 2 to 6GB internal 2.5" IDE hard drive.

I was mightily impressed with all this hardware capability considering that I had a number of science textbooks in college that were considerably larger than the NetWinder. Ralph showed me a NetWinder running Red Hat 5.1 and AfterStep. It gave a very snappy performance of opening and closing applications on the desktop. I concluded I would be very happy to replace the clunky and bulky Pentium on my desk with a NetWinder.

There are five models of NetWinder:

The NetWinder LC is targetted to the Enterprise as a thin-client, supporting Citrix ICA to access 32-bit Windows applications, Sun Microsystems JVM/JIT to access Java-based applications, X-Windows to access UNIX applications and most terminal emulation modes.

The NetWinder WS is targetted for deployment to ISPs and small and medium businesses as an Internet/Intranet Web, e-mail and FTP server.

The NetWinder DM is a development machine for the NetWinder project software designer.

The NetWinder RM is just two NetWinders mounted in the same rack and is targetted to ISPs offering a new approach to shared hosting.

Finally, the NetWinder Zaphod Project is a Beowulf cluster of ten NetWinders mounted in the same rack. It is still in development, although Ralph showed me a running prototype.

All models feature a StrongARM-ported version of Red Hat Linux as their OS.

At the show, Corel is offering a NetWinder DM or WS with a 4.0GB hard drive and 64MB DRAM for $989.

I said goodbye to Ralph, returned to the Linux Pavilion in the Sands Expo and talked to several more Linux exhibitors, including Enhanced Software Technologies, Inc., who make the very capable BRU backup solution and have just released a new product called QuickStart, a generic product for system crash recovery. I also learned many new things about Linux International from John "Maddog" Hall and Mark Bolzern and finally a fascinating interview with Grover Righter of Softway Systems, Inc., about how their unique software product Interix fits into the Linux and open source community.

I will be writing more about these topics in my next report from COMDEX.