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Network Computers

The network computer (NC) is an alternative approach to desktop computing and was primarily designed to act as the client in a client/server network, where most of the data processing is done by the server. Network computers rely on the central server for computing power because they have minimal memory as well little or no local disk storage, hence are also known as thin clients.

This means that the operating system, applications and data are stored on the central server and loaded when needed; however unlike computer terminals connected to a shared computer, most of the data processing takes place in the network computer.


Network computers usually come in two flavours:

  1. Client-oriented network computer: This is the approach that is backed by Sun Microsystems and Oracle. Here the diskless computer operates using a Java-based module called the Java Virtual Machine (JVM). This may come alone or might be built into a web browser.

    When a user logs onto the computer, a Java based operating system downloads onto the computer and then the user can use the services available on that computer. Some organisations have discovered hat they need server-based emulation programs to run Windows applications or built in terminal emulations to connect to legacy systems.

  2. NetPC: This is a Windows-based diskless, stripped down PC with no local storage facilities. This is the approach that is backed by Microsoft and Intel.

Network computer champions like Sun Microsystems and Oracle sing the praises of network computers, claiming they can reduce the cost of running networks by up to 70% as compared to the PC.

Networks computers are easier to maintain as most of the software maintenance can be done centrally as compared o the PC, where it usually has to be done peripherally.

One major drawback for network computers is the software, which is still in its infancy stages. Though effects are being made to correct this, the software needed by network computers is still not as mature as that used in used in PCs.

For now, a network computer might not be an ideal solution for everyone especially for those who might require a lot of computing power and carry out multiple complicated tasks. Hopefully this might be different when the technology finally comes of age.



International Medical Informatics Association
American Medical Informatics Association
UK Health Informatics Society
Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society

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Last Updated: 10 August 2006.

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