Product Review: Corel's NetWinder
Manufacturer: Corel Computer
Price: Varies with model, see web site
Reviewer: Marcel Gagné
Corel's NetWinder has to be one of the coolest computers I've ever seen. The slick little grey box makes me think of those cream-filled half-moon cakes with a little chunk taken off the edges. Sitting in its green plastic base, it beckons with a single deep red window up front and two status lights telling you everything is fine. It is about the size of my notebook, but unlike my notebook, it weighs next to nothing.
My time with the NetWinder was up a few days ago, but I have been hanging on to it due to problems in scheduling a drop-off time with the Corel sales representative. On my first attempt to deliver the unit, I stopped off at a customer's site, NetWinder in hand. It took an hour before I was allowed to leave again, as everybody in the office had to get a look. “That's a computer?” was heard time and again, as was “And it has what inside?” and “Tell me again what it can do?” If nothing else, the NetWinder gets looks. Luckily, there's more here than just looks.
The NetWinder is based on a 275MHz StrongARM SA-110 RISC processor which delivers 250 MIPS. It comes with 32 or 64MB of RAM and a 2, 4 or 6GB disk. There are two Ethernet interfaces, one 10 and one 10/100 fast Ethernet port. It draws 15 watts from its power brick, about the equivalent of a couple of night lights. The NetWinder WS also comes loaded with Perl for CGI scripting, the Apache web server, FTP, TELNET and DNS services. Also included are multimedia support, a 16-bit stereo sound card and 2MB SVGA/XVGA video.
The unit I reviewed is actually a DM demo. That translates to “a little bit of WS, DM, GS and LC all rolled into one”. Its OS version is based on Red Hat 4.2 with some Corel extensions. By the time you read this review, NetWinder will come preloaded with Red Hat 5.1.
A few different configurations are available. At this moment, there are five NetWinder configurations. The WS (Web Server) and the DM (Development Machine) are currently shipping. The LC (Linux Computer) should be out by the time you read this; I was told “in time for Christmas 1998”. The other two models, the RM (Rack Mount) and GS (Group Server), are expected in early 1999. Pricing and configuration options are available from the Corel Computer web site at http://www.corelcomputer.com/. The open source software and updates are available at http://www.netwinder.org/.
The WS is designed to be an “out of the box” web server. Small ISPs and corporate intranets or web sites are the most likely candidates for the WS.
The DM is aimed at the software designer and comes with a suite of development and programming tools. It is primarily for Corel NetWinder project developers.
The LC is seen as a business or enterprise desktop client, although I also see this as potentially quite attractive to the home user looking for a robust alternative to running MS Windows. It comes with X, the KDE windows environment, Netscape Communicator and WordPerfect 8. Supporting many client/server models, the LC comes with Sun's Java VM, a Citrix ICA client to access 32-bit MS Windows applications and good old terminal access.
For the workgroup environment, Corel offers the GS. Designed as a local enterprise server, the GS offers e-mail services, HTML authoring, discussion groups, and document management and indexing functionality.
Finally, there's the RM. This NetWinder will appeal to larger ISPs. Each RM can accommodate two NetWinders in the space of a single rack unit. That means a possible 80 NetWinders in a standard rack. Each RM is designed to be hot swappable from its partner. One from each pair can be removed without powering down the other unit.
I decided to review this unit while leaning toward the WS model, a more likely choice for ISPs and corporate intranets. When I got my NetWinder home, I plugged the unit in, hooked up the included mouse and keyboard and plugged in a 15-inch Digital SVGA monitor. The NetWinder does not come with a monitor, because in the case of the WS, Corel imagines the unit running in the background without being looked at. After all, it is designed to be a server and can be administered through a web interface. Personally, I can imagine lots of people wanting one of these on their desktops.
After a few seconds, I heard little start-up tones, “Too-loo-toong!”, followed by a strange, childlike voice saying, “Welcome to NetWinder”. (I later found out that this is one of the developer's children. The voice is kind of cute.) Next, I logged in, as per the tiny (not much more than a dozen pages) user's manual that came with it, as I was anxious to get started. I completely ignored the part about “setting it up for your network”.
I typed startx and was greeted by a bright, beautiful KDE desktop with Corel's logo floating on a black background. I flipped through the four virtual desktops, each with a different background. Number three, with its stone wall image as the background, nearly blew me away; the brilliant definition begged me to reach out and touch it in order to convince myself it wasn't real. Corel has put nice video into their NetWinders. This was actually the first time I had seen the KDE desktop, and I was so impressed with it that I now run it on my Dell XPi notebook. KDE is not included on the WS, but I couldn't resist playing with all the toys on my DM.
I wandered around the desktop, played a couple of hands of poker, and finally dragged myself back to writing this review. To set the machine up for my network, I plugged the 10Mbps port into a free port on the hub, typed netconfig and modified the address to fit in to my 192.168 existing class C. Then, I used Netscape to access the NetWinder from my Dell notebook running Red Hat 5.2.