Report from COMDEX: Corel’s NetWinder

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

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

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

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

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

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