Sun Ray 1 To Target Education Market

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Sun Microsystems, Palo Alto, CA, said this week that it began to roll out a marketing program for its new network computer product, the Sun Ray 1. The book-sized electronic processing device will be positioned as an information appliance for schools, which runs without a desktop operating system or any installed software applications.


Sun Microsystems compares the operation and flexibility of the Sun Ray 1 to a common telephone handset, claiming it moves the company a step closer to fulfilling its co-founder Bill Joy's belief that a computer's complexity should be absorbed in the network, not thrust on the user.


"Consumers are going to first realize the [beauty of this] product in the educational setting," said spokeswoman Janet Pinto. "We've already got it in use this week as school's are opening, but it's going to have a lot of play in a lot of other markets as well -- particularly where high intensity computing is not as critical."


Robert Iskander, director of worldwide development for education and research at Sun, said the company's marketing of the Sun Ray 1 was part of an integrated, multiplatform approach involving numerous parties.


"The Sun Ray 1 will be targeted at schools as part of a total solution for using our marketing partners and applications representatives along with other companies that are doing systems integrations. Our service providers will also be selling total turnkey solutions through organizations such as Learningstation.com, which represents our typical future general model," he said.


Iskander said Sun Microsystems would use a direct sales distribution infrastructure combined with demand-creation teams armed with a portfolio of marketing materials. He declined to detail exactly what marketing components would make up the outreach effort.


In published reports, Rob Enderle, an analyst with Giga Information Group, San Jose, CA, said Sun's new approach could mean formidable competition at the next turn.


"It could actually reverse Microsoft's (office software) market share," he said. "This is one of those things that could start an avalanche. This is clearly the most compelling technology that we've seen so far."


Using its proprietary "hot desk" solution in combination with smart card technology, Sun's approach is designed to completely shield students and consumers from all the complexities associated with modern computing. In Sun's view, everything from the operating system and hard drive to programming applications and modem technology is eliminated from the user's environment -- residing instead on a satellite master server accessed in real time via the Internet.


Pinto said the concept frees up teachers from any preoccupation with computer operating systems.


"This means teachers don't have to administer desktops throughout high schools. It takes the complexity away from doing upgrades. With the Sun Ray 1, you can upgrade every user at one time and it only takes one person to do that," she said.


Sun's global education and research group is currently targeting K-12 institutions with the benefits of the Sun Ray 1 device, but the company declined to divulge exact marketing strategies. Pinto noted, however, that one of the key marketing points was the convenience of having all the applications controlled through a local area network in ways that mirror many corporate work groups.


"A lot of the most immediate growth will take place where portal companies are setting up networks specifically for school districts," Pinto said.


"Our vision is, and always has been, to deliver services everywhere on the Net," said Ed Zander, president/CEO at Sun Microsystems.
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