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A network computer is an inexpensive personal computer designed for a centrally-managed network -- that is, data are stored and updated on a network server -- and lacks a disk drive, CD-ROM drive or expansion slots. A network computer depends on network servers for processing power and data storage.
A network computer is sometimes referred to as a thin client. Network computers may also be referred to as diskless nodes or hybrid clients. Network computers designed to connect to the Internet may be called Internet boxes, NetPCs or Internet appliances.
A network computer offers the following advantages: lower production costs, lower operating costs and quiet operation. This reduced total cost of ownership (TCO) makes this kind of computer very popular among corporations. Network computers are also often used in hazardous environments where more expensive computers could get damaged or destroyed.
The term is often used in the context of Sun Microsystems (which was acquird by Oracle in 2010) and their slogan "The Network is the Computer." While Sun served to popularize the term, they definitely didn't invent the idea. In fact, you could argue that in many ways a network computer is in many ways similar to dumb terminals used to access mainframes. Moving forward, the concept is again evolving in the context of cloud computing. Devices like tablets are changing the way people thing about computing and the requirement of having data stored locally as opposed to in the cloud. For many applications, as long as there is a network connection, it doesn't matter whether data is local, on a server in a company's LAN or on a server located half-way across the world.