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NCD Explora Terminal, WinCenter, and NCDware

Make no mistake­the NCD Explora is an X-terminal product through and through. NCD has made no attempt to customize Explora or adapt it to the Windows NT market. Just getting Explora to work in an NT-only environment can be challenging, because Explora is incapable of fully booting from ROM and wants to boot from a UNIX system. Unfortunately, I didn't happen to have a UNIX system lying around that week, but then again, such situations make this NCD story interesting.

If you put aside the Explora's X-centric nature, you find a pretty interesting desktop unit. The base unit is a small box with connections for Ethernet, keyboard, monitor, mouse, parallel port, serial port, and a PC Card (formerly PCMCIA) slot. You can buy the monitor, keyboard, and mouse from NCD, or you can supply your own. As with most X-terminals, you configure the Explora with an IP address (it does not support DHCP), and you can configure a UNIX host for it to boot from. Again, booting the Explora was a problem for me until I discovered that NCD offers an add-on software product called NCDware that lets you boot X-terminals from the NT server that hosts the X-terminal sessions.

Like the other vendors I reviewed, NCD offers its version of WinFrame, called WinCenter (see Screen A). But WinCenter goes beyond WinFrame because it adds support for X-terminal access. To enable this support, you must first install NCD's OEM version of WinFrame on your designated server and then install a second WinCenter add-on (the WinCenter package includes both WinFrame and the add-on). Once the add-on is in place, your server can accommodate access from both ICA and X-terminals­if you can get your X-terminals to boot in the first place.

The final piece was an NCD product, NCDware. This product is an add-on that installs after WinCenter (including the X-terminal add-on). NCDware includes an implementation of Trivial File Transfer Protocol (TFTP) and the download code for the Explora terminal. With NCDware in place, I booted the Explora terminal and tested it using NCD's WinCenter software. Note that NCDware lets you download other types of X-terminals, but NCDware includes download code for only a limited set of X-terminals.

I tested ICA access to WinCenter on the Wyse terminal and the Tektronix Netstation terminal in ICA mode. I also tested X access on the NCD Explora terminal, the Tektronix Netstation terminal in X mode, Insignia's NTRIGUE Mac Client (an X-terminal emulator), and both NCD's PC-Xware and Hummingbird's Exceed X-terminal emulation software running on an NT Workstation system. I had no problems with NCD WinCenter's support for ICA or X-terminals. Also, NCD Explora's performance was close to the Wyse ICA terminal's (though Explora had a slight performance edge).

Will you want to consider the NCD Explora terminal? I really liked the unit after I overcame my problem with booting it. From a broader perspective, however, you'll probably want to stay away from this unit if you don't have experience with X-terminals or you don't have X-terminals in your network. However, if you have developed a taste for X-terminals, the NCD Explora is clearly worth considering. The same applies for NCD's WinCenter and optional NCDware software products: If you don't have X-terminals in your network, you won't find much of interest here. If X-terminals are in your network (or in your future), though, you might get excited about X-to-NT access and booting your X-terminals from an NT server.

NCD Explora terminal, WinCenter, and NCDware
Network Computing Devices * 415-694-0650
Suggested retail pricing (terminals): Explora base only (use existing monitor) $112; Explora with 15" monitor $1465
Suggested retail pricing (software): WinCenter (supports X/ICA for 5 users) $1975; NCDware (enable X boot from NT) $50
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