Eleven of the world’s leading computer hardware and software makers have agreed on a common set of standards for building mobile network computers, lightweight mobile devices with easy access to the Internet or corporate networks, the firms announced June 23.

The move appears aimed at challenging Net PCs, stripped down personal computers with strengthened network functions that have been promoted by Microsoft Corp. The mobile NCs, which are similar to network computers, are fully capable network computers with roaming functions, and their specifications are drawn up based on the NC standards that were agreed last year among five companies, including IBM Corp. and Oracle Corp.

NCs are also stripped down low-cost terminals designed to be used with heavy dependence on networks, but unlike Net PCs, most of them are based on the Unix operating system and do not have a hard disk to store memory. The companies that participated in drawing up the standards for the mobile NC are Apple Computer Co., Fujitsu Ltd., Hitachi Ltd., IBM Corp., Lotus Development Corp., Mitsubishi Electric Corp., Netscape Communications Corp., Nokia Mobile Phones, Network Computer Inc., Sun Microsystems Corp. and Toshiba Corp.

The mobile NCs will operate on networks at various connection speeds, and they will also be used in a disconnected mode, they said. The newly agreed standards, called the Mobile Network Computer Reference Specification, will determine how mobile computer screens should look, how much power they need, the method of linking them with networks and the types of peripheral devices that they support, they added.

The agreement will enable hardware makers to produce mutually compatible mobile network computers. But detailed specifications still have to be worked out in the next few months, they said. Phil Hester, vice president of IBM Corp.’s network computer division, said the group consulted Microsoft about the standards, but the U.S. software giant decided not to join the group. “We welcome anyone to endorse this standard,” Hester said. “As to why Microsoft is not involved in this, you have to refer to them.” Fourteen other companies, including Digital Equipment Corp. and NEC Corp., are also endorsing the efforts of the 11 companies and the Mobile NC specifications, they said.

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